(Back To 1999 Contents)Major Michael O'Leary VC.
Michael O'Leary was a very brave young soldier, serving in the British Army during World War 1, who was awarded the Victoria Cross (VC) for conspicuous bravery in the field of battle.
The VC is probably the most prestigious and coveted award for bravery in the World. Awarded for outstanding deeds, it ranks before all other honours in Britain. Very few are awarded, and these are all heroic and magnificent acts of valour.
The medal was instituted in 1857 and is normally only awarded during times of War. It is a simple bronze cross, with a deep crimson ribbon which the proud recipients wear before all other medals or honours.
No one can wear a VC because of some deed done by their father or ancestor. No VCs are sent to the Front with the rations, and no one can inherit one. It marks a single deed of amazing bravery done by that one person, and marks him out for life.
In the 140 years of its existence, less than 1400 VCs have been awarded.
By their very nature, many VCs have to be awarded posthumously. Michael was one of the fortunate few to survive in battle, and lived a long and happy life afterwards.
He was the first man in the Irish Guards to be awarded the VC. and this happened in the Front in France in 1915.
He was born in Inchigeelagh Parish in 1888 and belonged to the O'Leary Riabhach family. His father was Daniel O'Leary from Cooleen townland, and his mother was Margaret Lucey.
After leaving Kilbarry National School, young Michael joined the Royal Navy in 1904 and served as a Stoker. He was invalided out due to rheumatism. Later in 1909 he served in the Irish Guards until 1913. He then emigrated to Canada and tried his luck with the North West Mounted Police until the War started in 1914 when he was recalled to the colours as a reservist, and was sent to the Front with the First Battalion Irish Guards with the rank of Lance-Corporal.
He won his VC at Cuinchy on February 1st. 1915 and was promoted to Sergeant on the field. After a period acting as an aid to recruitment in Britain, he applied for a commission, and was transferred to the Connaught Rangers as a first Lieutenant. He served in Salonika where he was mentioned in despatches, was awarded the Russian Cross of St.George in 1915, and left the Army at the end of the War as a Captain. He married Greta Hegarty of Ballyvourney in 1919, and they brought up a family of six sons and a daughter. He spent several years in Canada after the War, then returned with his family to England. He rejoined the Army at the start of World War 2 which he finished as a Major. He died in1961 and is buried in St.Mary's Cemetery, Mill Hill, London. His VC was presented to the Irish Guards Regiment by his sons, and is kept in their Regimental Archives.
Michael O'Leary's sons.
L to r Liam, Jerry, Danny and Tim.
At the Presentation of the Victoria Cross to Michael O'Leary
L to r 2nd from left, the future George 6th ; George 5th; Michael O'Leary; Llyod George?.