The life and death of John Francis McVeigh.


Brendan Matthews, a community historian with a short piece on the Drogheda man John Francis McVeigh who died in 1925 while saving the life of a child in danger of drowning.

On Sunday August 23rd 1925 the Dunlaoghaire Branch Legion of Ex-Servicemen organised a one-day excursion trip to Drogheda. The day was bright and sunny and many people, men women and children had made the trip to the Boyneside town from south Co. Dublin. In the early afternoon on that faithful Sunday, a young lad named James Bryan, who was also part of the excursion, was playing near the waters of the Boyne at 5 Ballast Quay when he lost his footing and toppled into the river which was at high tide.

Among the large crowds of people who were walking along the port area at the time was young John Francis McVeigh from nearby North Quay and as soon as he had seen what had taken place he dispersed of his jacket and jumped into the Boyne to save the young Dublin boy.

McVeigh reached the young lad and threw him across his shoulder and began to swim back towards the steps leading from the river`s edge to Ballast Quay but as they were nearing the steps the two of them suddenly disappeared beneath the deepened waters. After what seemed like an eternity young James Bryan reappeared on the surface of the Boyne however there was no sign of his rescuer. Amidst the shouting, cries and hysterics of the large assemblage of people, Thomas Heaney, a well-known figure on the Quays, stretched out a crutch to the half-drowned boy and succeeded in bringing him ashore and thus saving his life.

A boat was dispatched to the river and after a short while the body of John Francis McVeigh was recovered from the Boyne. Amidst the shock and sadness his body was carried the short distance to his parents’ home on the North Quay.

Although only 20 years old, John Francis McVeigh`s life was full of exciting incidents. It was recorded that, during the struggle with the dreaded Black & Tans, while still only in his teens, he was identified with the Fianna Boys and later with the I.R.A. According to reports in the Drogheda Independent: `He was much sought after by the police and the military`. In 1922 he was an active member of the Anti-Treaty forces and escaped arrest on one occasion by swimming across the River Boyne fully clothed. Another report in the pages of the Drogheda Independent states that: `While he was a prisoner in St. Mary`s School, then held by National Army forces, he scaled a high wall and escaped from custody in broad day light.

John Francis McVeigh also had a passion for sea-faring and only a few months before his death he had signed up on a cargo ship at Drogheda, however on the day of its departure from the port he missed the vessel by a few minutes and while off the coast of Scotland the ship went down losing all hands on deck.
The following poem appeared in the Drogheda Independent a week after young gallant McVeigh lost his life while trying to save another and was just signed, `Irishman`.

How sweet to think of one like thee,
A heart so sure and brave,
Who handed up thy youthful life
Another life to save.

Flower of freedom thou dost sleep,
But only to this earth;
Thou bloometh now in heaven,
Predestined from your birth.

The tyrant`s scourge you bravely stood
You heeded not his frown;
And you now drink the cup of bliss
And wear your golden crown.

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