‘It was like bringing a piece of him back’

Tracey pictured with the chalice at  St Pauls Church, Langemark
Tracey pictured with the chalice at St Pauls Church, Langemark

In the trenches of WW1, a Dunree priest provided comfort, prayers and support to hundreds of young men, many of whom were in their last moments.

The chalice Fr James McRory used in those trenches, on which he engraved the words ‘Kind Lord, Give Them Peace’ in Latin, was recently brought back to the battlefields of Flanders in what was a “poignant and emotional” journey for his niece Tracey McRory.

The trip to Flanders was one Tracey wanted to undertake since she found her uncle’s 800 page war diary, in which he spoke of his experiences of the war as a young priest with the Connaught Rangers, an Irish regiment in the British army.

The finding of the diary brought Tracey on a remarkable journey of exploration, which led to the discovery of her uncle’s chalice in America three-years-ago. It was entrusted to her and she tells the ‘Journal’ how she feels she holds responsibility for what is a stunning and crucial piece of history.

It has also ensured that many of the young men who died in the war have been given a voice, something highlighted during a special concert staged during Tracey’s trip.

An accomplished musician herself, Tracey was joined on stage by the extremely talented Richard Laird, Darren Milligan and Tom Byrne.

They were accompanied by three Flemish musicians, during which stories of young men from all over the island of Ireland were told, including those from Derry and Donegal. The concert was attended by the Irish Ambassador and was held in St Paul’s Church in Langemark, Belgium. One of the pieces performed was composed by Tracey’s late partner Sam Starrett and was titled ‘Dunree,’ a touching connection to the place of Fr McRory’s birth.

Tracey tells how she could never have foreseen the journey she would be taken on following the discovery of Fr James McRory’s war diary, which begins with the words: ‘From the Shamrock Dugout, in the trenches where Ypres once was,’

Fr McRory was born in Dunree in 1881. After attending a local national school, he went on to be educated at St. Columb’s College in Derry, in which the chalice has been located for the past year.

He survived the War although he was wounded at the battle of Passchendaele in 1917. However, he returned in June 1918 and on his return back home, served as a priest in areas including Carndonagh, Claudy and Donemana. He passed away in 1951, aged 71.

Tracey says she always knew she wanted to return with the chalice to Flanders and believed the time was now right.

She said: “When I was given the chalice, the woman who handed it to me said: ‘It’s your responsibility now.’ That always stayed with me. It is a piece of history and it was important to my uncle.”

She disclosed how the return to Flanders was like “bringing a piece of him back.”

“Here he was, coming from the beauty of Dunree to war. There’s a part of his Dunree where he writes about being stuck in the trenches for six weeks. He couldn’t even lift his head above the parapet for all that time. But, for many Roman Catholic Priests, they believed their place was in the trences with the men. There were a lot of young soldiers over there and he was with them in their last moments. So, taking the chalice back to Flanders was like bringing a piece of him back.”