A Naas resident and his Victoria Cross.
The story of finding the final resting place of Corporal John Lyons V.C. (Deceased 1867)
As a result of Covid restrictions I turned my genealogy research pastime into an everyday occurrence spending hours on the computer doing genealogy research on my own family and for friends.
I also had an interest in military history having served for 36 years in the Army Reserve of the Irish Defence Forces. I was stationed in Naas Barracks which was built in 1813 and which was the Depot Barracks of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers up to 1922. The Barracks was closed in 1998 and the Kildare County Council Offices (Arás Chill Dara, Devoy Park) were built on the site.
I became aware of the story of Cpl. John Lyons late last year when I was researching Sgt. Henry Ramage of the 2nd Dragoon Guards who won his Victoria Cross in the Crimea on the 26th October 1854 and died in Newbridge Co. Kildare on the 29th December 1859 age 32. Despite intensive research by a number of people, Sgt. Ramage’s grave has not been identified.
During my research I was directed to https://kildare.ie/ehistory/?s=crimea as this site has a number of articles in connection with soldiers who served in the Crimea and the Indian Mutiny (1857/58) in addition to a wide-ranging content of articles relating to Kildare in times past. This website is part of the services provided by Kildare Library and Arts Service.
The story of Corporal John Lyons VC is not known in the town of Naas. When I conducted an internet search for information, I had several important ‘hits’ about his exploits and which confirmed he died in Naas on the 20th April 1867, but his final resting place was not identified. With time on my hands, I decided to begin a new research project to try and find where Corporal John Lyons VC was buried in Naas.
John Lyons was born to Daniel Lyons and Margaret Muldowney in Carlow in 1825. His baptismal record gives us a date of baptism as being on the 14th May 1825. His army discharge papers show he joined the 19th Regiment of Foot in Carlow, when he was 18 years 6 months old on the 11th July 1842. When he joined the Regiment, he gave his occupation as Painter. His younger brother David Lyons also joined up on the same day.
John had a chequered army career; the Green Howard Museum records tell us he was recognised as an excellent soldier and promoted twice but unfortunately court-martialed three times in the course of his career. His list of postings read like an itinerary of a world traveller:
- Malta and Corfu in the Mediterranean,
- Barbados and St. Vincent in the West Indies.
- Montreal and Ottawa in Canada.
Returning to England in 1851 he served in each of Winchester, Weymouth, Gosport and also with the Grenadier Company at the Tower of London.
In 1854 his unit was sent to the Crimea and he fought in the Battle of Alma on the 20th September and the Battle of Inkerman on the 5th November 1854.
On the 10th June 1855, when was he was in a trench at the siege of Sebastopol, a live shell landed in the trench, whereupon he picked it up and threw it out, thereby saving his own and a number of his comrades’ lives. He was awarded the Victoria Cross for his bravery. The Citation reads as follows: ‘For, on the 10th June 1855, taking up a live shell which fell among the guard of the trenches, and throwing it over the parapet.’
Private John Lyons was one of 62 Victoria Cross recipients presented with their medal by Queen Victoria in Hyde Park on the 26th June 1857.
In late July 1857 he and his Regiment were transferred to Bengal in India to deal with the Indian Mutiny. He was promoted to Corporal on the 15th September 1860. After 4 years there he was returned sick to England in 1861.
John Lyons went before a medical review board on the 6th December 1862 and the outcome was that “his discharge is proposed in consequence of his being unfit for further military service”. Medically he was adjudged to be suffering from Chronic Rheumatism as a result of exposure on military service.
Following this outcome, John Lyons was given medical care and attention in The Royal Victoria Netley Hospital, Southampton until his discharge on the 14th July 1863 aged 39 years and 7/12 months and his intended place of residence was stated to be Ireland.
My research began in earnest when I was able to get a copy of his death record from the Irish Govt Record Office in August 2022.
Richard Johnston who was present at John Lyon’s death is his brother-in-law. He married Johana Lyons, who is John Lyon’s sister, in Athy on the 25th September 1857. Richard Johnston was 42 years old and working in Athy Gaol at the time of their marriage, Johana was 26 years old.
We now have a reason for John Lyons coming to live in Naas. He was living with his sister at the time immediately prior to his death on the 20th April 1867. He had been ill with TB for the previous 18 months. It is not clear if John Lyons ever worked as a painter in Naas due to his ill health and he would have been in receipt of a small pension due to his being invalided out of military service. Having been awarded the Victoria Cross, he would also have been in receipt of a £10 annuity.
Johana and Richard had a son Daniel born on the 8th September 1862 in Naas. I also found a birth record for their daughter Margaret Anna Johnston, born on the 8th May 1865 which provides additional information on the family. They were living in New Row Naas and Richard was a shoe maker.
The next record I found for the Johnston family was the death of Richard at New Row Naas on the 18th December 1872 Age 60, ‘retired constable’ from Bronchitis of eight months duration.
Photo Courtesy of The Green Howards Museum Trust
There is a macabre conclusion to the death of Cpl. John Lyons. The photo above, is a daguerreotype and was taken after his demise. His family arranged his corpse to be dressed up in full military uniform with his medals and propped up in a chair.
His Victoria Cross and other medals were sold on the 6th July 1897 in Sotheby’s London for £55 and were bought by Lieutenant Colonel Andrew Munro who had served in the 19th Regiment and he presented them to his Regiment (19th). The Victoria Cross and medals are now held in the Green Howards Regiment Museum Trust at Richmond, North Yorkshire.
Zoe Utley, The Collections Manager of the Green Howards Museum Trust drew my attention to an interesting story about the Museum’s acquisition of the daguerreotype photograph of Cpl. John Lyons as recounted by Major M.L. Ferrar in his book “Bygone Days”. He was on duty in Dublin in 1897 and David Lyons (brother), now a pensioner who had served in the Crimea and was wounded at Redan, said he wanted to present Major Ferrar with the photograph of his brother Cpl. John Lyons in his uniform wearing his Victoria Cross and Legion of Honour. Major Ferrar was delighted to accept it and in thanking David Lyons gave him a cash present. As it turns out Major Ferrar was the Museum’s great collector of militaria and the picture is now on show in the Museum’s Crimean case.
So, having taken a few detours and meanderings, it was time to get back to the main point of my research: can I find where Corporal John Lyons is buried? I had been using Ancestry.co.uk as my main research platform, having exhausted the capabilities of Irish Genealogy.ie in the process.
One morning at about 2am a few months back, during one of my research sessions when I was working on Ancestry.co.uk and going through a refined search for information on John Lyons, I was able to conclude that earlier searches had given me his correct year of birth. A new search offered me information on Joannes Lyons (sic), [John Lyons]. This information came from records held in a database “Ireland, Catholic Parish Registers, 1655-1915”. An internet search directed me to Catholic Parish Registers at the NLI. (National Library Ireland). Naas Parish Records has four sections and on Microfilm 04208/05 the death records for the period 14th March 1861 to 30th Dec1868 are held. So, fingers crossed I began my trawl through the records which are set out in Latin. I am pleased to say that having studied Latin in Naas CBS under the tutelage of the late Tom ‘Tucker’ Maguire I was able to decipher the all-important record of John Lyons for which I had been searching. I found an entry detailing where Corporal John Lyons is buried and this also confirmed that he lived in New Row, Naas at the time of his death.
Corporal John Lyons is buried in Abbey Cemetery beside Abbey Bridge and the Grand Canal in Naas.
The cemetery gets its name as it is located in the ruins of a former Augustinian monastery that was founded in the 14th Century. In historical documents it was known as the “Abbey of the Mote” in view of its proximity to the Moat just up the road. The monastery ceased to exist following the Dissolution of the Monasteries by Henry VIII starting in 1536.
The New Cemetery (St. Corban’s on the Dublin Road, Naas) opened in 1888 but on occasion a burial took place in the Abbey Cemetery. For example, the eHistory site (Kildare Library and Arts Service) has an article attributed to The Kildare Observer 2 January 1904 reporting on the death of a Crimean Veteran: Mr. Patrick Turner whose funeral took place in Old Abbey.
I discussed the results of my research with my brothers Bill and David and they both suggested that I get confirmation of other burials in Abbey Cemetery around that time. Following further research, I found online that a survey of the Abbey Graveyard headstones had been undertaken in 1987 by Brian McCabe, Seán Sourke, David Brown, Kevin Burke & John O’Kelly and I used their survey to find a burial in and around 1867. They had a headstone recorded for ‘Murphy 1866’ and there is a record for Michael Murphy Age 73 interred in the Abbey Cemetery in the NLI Naas Parish register.
Having completed my research I invited James Durney, Kildare Co. Co. Historian and Karel Kiely, County Archivist, to review it. Both of them have confirmed the accuracy of my findings and were able to supply me with additional information in relation to Johana Lyons and Richard Johnston which has been incorporated into this article.
My grateful thanks to:
- Zoe Utley, The Collections Manager of the Green Howards Museum Trust for permission to use their photograph of Corporal John Lyons VC and providing additional information.
- My brothers: Bill, David and Ger Gibson for their support and encouragement while I was doing this project and reviewing my final draft.
- James Durney and Karel Kiely for their advice, support and additional material during my research.
 Supplement to The London Gazette of Tuesday, February 24, 1857 Page 659
 The invention of the daguerreotype, the earliest photographic process, in 1839 brought portraiture to a wider audience. It was cheap to produce and enabled a family to have an affordable keepsake of their dead family members. The photographer often tried to make the recently deceased look like they were in a deep sleep and adults were commonly posed in chairs.
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