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The Royal Hibernian Military School (1765-1924)
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2005 The last known Hibernian

Editor: With thanks to Maria Kilduff of Dublin for generously providing photographs of the former Hibernian School property at Phoenix Park and information on her family. Also for the candour with which she commented on her patriot Irish childhood in Ireland.

Given that the Royal Hibernian school amalgamated with the Duke of York's in 1924, every boy at that time would be ripe for service during the Second World War, which reaped a grim harvest from their number. Some survived, but the years that followed inevitably took a toll on them until, by the turn of the new Century, one might have supposed that none remained in this mortal coil. The last of the Hibernian lads is, however, still alive and among us: Michael Kilduff, age 93, a contemporary of the oldest still-living Dukie, Albert Perry of Hope Island, Queensland, Australia, age 97.

Michael Kilduff, living in Dublin with his niece, Maria Kilduff, was one of three brothers to join the Royal Hibs before notice of its closure came in 1922. He was among those who were evacuated, first to Shorncliffe near Folkstone, and then amalgamated with the Duke of York's, Dover, in 1924. Michael was the youngest of three Kilduff brothers – William, Patrick and Michael – who joined the Hibernian School.

Their father, John Kilduff, was a soldier in the Dublin Fusiliers. His wife died in the 'flu epidemic of 1918 leaving John with five children to raise, four boys and a girl ranging in age from 2 to 10 years. As ex-soldiers go, John Kilduff's family was relatively well off, living in a new, two-up two-down cottage with outbuildings, which would have been the envy of many. Even so, with his wife dead, the father had no way of bringing up five children.His father, a self-employed carrier with four horses, earned a good living, but the elder Kilduffs could only take in two of the son's children. "At that time in Ireland," wrote Maria, daughter of William Kilduff, "times were hard and the British ascendancy held a lot of influence." It was fortunate for the family that a woman with influence in the area arranged for the three older boys to go to the RHMS. Maria and her younger brother, a two-year old, were taken in by their grandmother.

The three Kilduff brothers at the RHMS, Phoenix Park William (top), Patrick (centre right), Michael (bottom)

There is some doubt as to route taken by the Hibernians School from Phoenix Park to Shorncliffe Barracks. The route by ship from Dublin to Liverpool by ship was followed by rail transport to London. Michael has no recollection of the move from Liverpool to Kent. He recollects walking across a bridge, but which one and where he does not remember. Maria said her father remembered crossing a bridge in London. Further than that, nothing is known, but travel must have been by train in the 1920s to which Maria agrees: by train to London and across the capital for a Southern Railway service to Folkstone.

Maria writes of being '... somewhat ashamed of our grandfather having been in the British Army, and were appalled that he allowed his family to be split up like it was. I suppose that, like most youngsters, we wanted our forebears to be patriots and heroes.' She mentioned this to an elderly cousin, regretting among other things that they had no family records. 'He made it clear to me,' she wrote, 'that in those days their main concern was survival.' They worked hard for low wages. 'They got a shilling when they joined the army – hence the term "Taking the King's shilling"'. She does know, however, that her father and uncles were well-treated at the Hib School. 'Neither my father nor uncles ever mentioned suffering any kind of ill treatment during their school days.' Nor did they suffer any kind of religious discrimination. Her father did say that those crowding the docks to watch jeered them as the ship was leaving Dublin. They were also jeered again in England (in London, Maria believes) when they marched across they mysterious bridge. The report jeering in Dublin is in contrast with a report in The Times of the same event in which the reporter wrote of a sense of sadness in the crowd that watched the departure. This, however, could be a touch of Times propaganda for home consumption. Who can tell?


One of the many plaques to Hibernians fixed in the wall of one of the two churches that could not be taken from the old property

According to Maria Kilduff, ' The Irish Times could well have expressed sadness at the departure of the pupils, but the Times was never considered the newspaper of working class Dubliners.' She is also of opinion that the jeering in Dublin was directed not so much at the boys boarding the ship as at the British troops who accompanied them. 'There was a lot of ill feeling among ordinary Dubliners at that time after the execution of the leaders of the 1916 Rising, particularly the Labour leader, James Connolly;  and the Black ‘n’ Tans had left their mark, too.'  

Although all three boys made the journey to Shorncliffe only two went to the Duke of York's in 1924. The eldest, William, was 15 in November 1922 and returned home to Ireland. The Hibernian boys did not mix well with the Duke of York's boys when the RHMS amalgamated with its sister school. Evidence of the separation came from Dan Kirwan, a contemporary of Michael Kilduff in the Duke of York's as well as of Irish stock.

On amalgamation, the Hibernians occupied two company houses, reported by Maria as J and K, which were wooden huts constructed to accommodate the newcomers. The Kilduff brothers, Patrick and Michael, were in separate RHMS houses. Both were in the band: Patrick played the tuba (E flat bass) and Michael a side drum. Michael played a side drum on the day of the final muster of the RHMS, which must have been a sad experience for the last of the Hibs.

From sparse accounts available, the Hibernian boys were not happy with being removed from Dublin or being transferred to the Duke of York's. With another boy, Patrick Kilduff ran away from the Duke of York's and made their way to Folkstone before being found and returned to Dover. Her uncle Patrick told Maria that though a child, he reasoned that to return to Ireland he first had to get to Folkstone. Maria's father, William, rarely spoke of his time at the Royal Hibs. She believes that it evoked sad memories of his mother, her death, and the break-up of the family.

Michael told his niece that the Hibernian boys did not mix with the boys of the Duke of York's. (Dan Kirwan confirms this. See Michael said they were 'not allowed to look at other boys' (Dukies). He said they were instructed to look straight ahead, which might have been a way to discourage bullying. Maria remarks:

'With all the recent revelations about the abuse suffered by young boys at the hands of the clergy while in institution care I’m glad now that my father and brothers were placed in the Hib school. I shudder to think what might have become of them otherwise. Their religious education certainly didn’t suffer at the hands of the British. All three were devout Catholics. In fact, Uncle Michael is the most religious person I know. My father and his brothers were people of strong principle. Do you think that is a result of education in the military school?

Patrick and Michael both joined the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers when they left the Duke of York's and served in that regiment until they retired in the 1950s, both having reached the rank of regimental sergeant major. Patrick Kilduff told his Maria that he was the first Roman Catholic RSM in the Royal Inniskillings in Omagh, which may or may not be true since we only have his word to go on second-hand. This is surprising considering the heavy concentration of Catholic Irish in the Regiment. Patrick, having had a good service record and awarded and MBE, which he is said to have received 'in the field', was recommended for a commission, but declined. He died in London in 1990.

Michael Kilduff spent a few years in Ireland when he left the Army, but returned to live in England in the late 1950s and returned to Dublin last year. Maria took him to Phoenix Park recently. He recognized it instantly. 'The cemetery,' she reports, 'is not well tended and the two churches are in a bad state of repair.' The main building, St. Mary's, is a geriatric hospital, also in a shabby state and in need of repair.

Maria is surprised that her Uncle Michael is the last surviving boy from the Royal Hibs '...because they must have had an annual intake of boys between 1919 and 1922 many of whom would have been younger than Uncle Michael.' She perhaps does not realize, however, what a heavy toll the Second World War took of young boys primed for a military life and ripe for it by the time it struck the world in 1939.

Interestingly, a David McFarlane from the British Legion in Dublin recently invited Michael Kilduff to attend a presentation of badges to soldiers who served in WW2. The presentation was held Wednesday 16 March 2005 in Leopardstown Park Hospital where there are beds reserved for those who served in the British Military. McFarlane mentioned that someone from the British Embassy (thought to be the Military Attaché) about the Legion's wish to get Michael Kilduff's records from the Duke of York School. The Embassy official had pricked up his ears at the mention of the Hib School and intimated that contact with the School might be made regarding Michael's records.  


Michael Kilduff, age 93,
last of the Hibernian boys

Table of Contents - Royal Hibernian Military School
1769 Petition
1806 Pay and Allowances
1806 Weekly Governor's Report
1806 Time Table
1819 Charter
1819 Diet
1819 Staff Duties
1819 General Regulations
1844 Return of Religions
1849 S.S. Pemberton Orphans
1856 School Inspector Gleig
1857 China
1873 Religion
1900 Review at Phoenix Park
1918 Lost Boys
1919 Roll of Honour
1919 Recollections
1919 Lives of the Hibernians
Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
1922 Last cricket match
1924 A soldier's orphan's story
1924 Last roll call
1924 Laying up the colours
1924 The final era
1937 A military misfit NEW
1969 The bicentenary reunion
1994 Capt. Harry Bloomer MBE
2001 IGS No.25 History
2004 Newsletter
2005 The last known Hibernian
2007 Sources of Hibernian documents

Delta Tech Systems Inc
  Duke of York's Royal Military School
Royal Hibernian Military School
Reminiscences of a Queen's Army  Schoolmistress
World War I letters and Reports
Books and Militaria
Wellington on Waterloo
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© A. W. Cockerill 2005

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