Michael Francis O'Reilly
John Augustus Connolly VC (1829 - 1888):
John Augustus Connolly was one of the first Ulstermen to be awarded the Victoria Cross, the highest award for bravery in the British armed services.
Connolly was born at Cliff, Ballyshannon, County Donegal. On 26 October 1854 he was a lieutenant in the 49th (Princess Charlotte of Wales’s) Hertfordshire Regiment, in charge of a company engaged in picket (or “piquet”) duty during the siege of Sevastopol. Picket duty refers to a small group of lookouts placed in an advanced position, in front of their main force, and is thus in a highly dangerous position. That day, Connolly and his troops were set upon by Russian troops in a surprise attack. Connolly commanded a fierce resistance, leading from the front and engaging in hand-to-hand combat until he lost consciousness due to loss of blood. He was carried from the scene by Corporal James Owens.
The Victoria Cross was instituted in 1856, as a direct result of the Crimean War which, though a victory for the British French and Turkish forces, nevertheless cam at the cost of many casualties in battle, and as has become notorious, large numbers of military personnel who succumbed to disease and extremely inadequate medical treatment of the wounded. Before the War, there were rather few decorations for bravery, which was normally acknowledged by admission to chivalrous orders for senior officers, while junior officers and other ranks would receive promotions or financial rewards. In his case, Connolly’s bravery on 26 October was noted by Lord Raglan, the senior British commander, and he was promoted Captain. After the Crimean War, outstanding acts of bravery throughout the course of the war were acknowledged by the retrospective award of the VC, and Connolly’s award was formally announced, or “gazetted”, on 5 May 1857.
After leaving the army, in 1877 Connolly joined the Dublin Metropolitan Police. He died at the Curragh, County Kildare on 23 December 1888.
R Doherty & D Truesdale: Irish Winners of the Victoria Cross (Dublin 2000); Farset Youth and Community Development Unit: Ireland's V.C.s: a comprehensive list of Irishmen who were awarded the Victoria Cross
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