John Michael O’Shea GC (EGM exchanger)

b. 1871 Ireland. d. 11/09/1942 Clogheen, Ireland.

DATE AND PLACE OF GC ACTION: 18/03/1911 Ardmore Bay.

John Michael O’Shea (c.1871-1942) was born in Lismore, Ireland in either 1870 or 1871, though sadly there are no parish records of his birth or of a baptism. He was the son of Michael and Joanna O’Shea (nee O’Donnell). The family were well known in the area, and were seen as one of the most influential and highly respected in County Waterford. John had three brothers, Ned (who worked at sea), Patrick (who was an excellent singer and was part of an opera company), and William who tragically died young. He also had a sister named Laura.

John M O’Shea GC

Their parents owned a public house and grocery shop in Lismore, and he attended the local Christian Brothers School, and went to Mount Melleray Abbey for his secondary education. He then began to train for a life in the priesthood.

Prior to the events which would lead to the award of the Empire Gallantry Medal, John had already been involved in another rescue, and would indeed, be involved in another afterwards. The first rescue was when the “Moresby” foundered in heavy seas in Dungarvan on Christmas Eve, 1895. He would later receive an award for his role in the wreck of the “Marechal de Noailles” at Minehead in January 1913.

The incident for which he is most remembered however, was whilst he was the parish priest at Ardmore on the 18th March 1911. During a terrible south-easterly gale, the schooner “Teaser” was driven ashore. After attempts to summon the nearest lifeboat failed, the coastguard fired rocket lines over the vessel. However, the crew were so exhausted they could not make use of them. It was then O’Shea remembered that there was a fisherman’s boat nearly a mile away. He gathered a willing band of volunteers who went with him to get the boat, and it was drawn by horse over rough ground to the scene of the wreck. With a crew of 7 men and O’Shea in command, the little boat put to sea. Upon reaching the wreck, however, they found that two men were beyond saving and the other man died soon afterwards. O’Shea administered the last rites to him.

Initially, John O’Shea was awarded the Gold Medal of the RNLI, while Richard Barry, the Petty Officer Coastguard, and Alexander Neal, Leading Boatman Coastguard, were both awarded the Silver Medal and £5 each. In addition, William Harris was given a binocular glass and a vote of thanks, Constable Lawton of the Royal Irish Constabulary £5 and a vote of thanks, and Pat Power, Cornelius O’Brien and John O’ Brien were all given £7 10s each.

Eventually, just over 13 years after the “Teaser” incident, O’Shea’s actions were recognised in England. On 4th July 1924, his name appeared in a list in the London Gazette of eight recipients of the Empire Gallantry Medal. It is unclear why it took so long for his actions to be recognised. John then became parish priest in Carrick-on-Suir, before he settled in Ballyporeen, County Tipperary. In 1940, on the creation of the George Cross, it was decided that all recipients of the EGM would be automatically be entitled to exchange it for the new decoration.

John passed away on 11th September 1942 in Clogheen, and in accordance with his will, was laid to rest at the back of the Cross of Calvery in Ballyporeen Churchyard, County Tipperary. His GC, RNLI Gold Medal and Board of Trade Medals were all left to the Mount Melleray Abbey, where he had trained to be a priest.