A community has paid tribute to a gallant soldier, decorated with the Victoria Cross for his bravery in a war in India over 150 years ago.
Corporal Michael Slevin, from Dromard, Kesh, was a member of the Sappers and Miners, the forerunner to the Royal Engineers which became involved in the Battle for Fort Jhansi in India in 1858. Corporal Slevin led a number of men in the building of a parapet to protect fellow soldiers from attack while under intense fire and during the fighting, Corporal Slevin led a party in the face of death to rescue the body of Surgeon Doctor Stacks of the 86th Regiment of Foot to save it from mutilation.
On Saturday last, the decorated soldier was remembered in a dignified ceremony to dedicate a memorial at his grave in St. Mary"s Roman Catholic Church graveyard at Bannagh, outside Kesh on Saturday. The memorial states that Corporal Michael Slevin V.C., of the Sappers & Miners Royal Engineers, 3rd April 1858 at Fort Jhansi, India, Dromard, Kesh, was born 1826 and died 20th August 1802 aged 76.
A booklet to record the life of Corporal Michael Slevin has been produced by local military historian, Oliver Breen from Enniskillen. Mr. Breen introduced proceedings at the graveside on Saturday in the presence of Corporal Slevin"s great-great granddaughter, Mrs. Maria Flanagan from Whitehill, Ballinamallard.
Among those in attendance was Mr. Jim McDonald, Northern Ireland Chairman of the George Cross Association as well as two people who are holders of the George Cross, Mr. Toney Gledhill and Mrs. Margaret Purves.
Mr. Breen said: 'To-day, Saturday, June 6, 2009, 107 years after his death and almost two years after I started this project to give Michael Slevin VC his due recognition, it gives me great pleasure to see this memorial unveiled to his memory. No better tribute could ever be paid to Michael Slevin VC than to have people with the same calibre of valour and courage here today to pay their humble respects. It is also fitting to have the community from the parish of Magheraculmoney here to pay their humble respects to one of their own sons, the gallant Michael Slevin VC.' This memorial is the only one of its kind in Fermanagh but there are two other men buried in graveyards in the county who have also won the Victoria Cross and who lie in unmarked graves; Mr. James Maguire VC and Mr. Charles Irwin VC.
Also taking part in Saturday"s ceremony were members of Cavanaleck Pipe Band from Fivemiletown who played as the guests assembled and a member of Church Hill Silver Band played the Last Post following the dedication ceremony which was performed by Monsignor Joseph McGuinness of St. Michael"s Church, Enniskillen and the Rev. Glenn West, rector of Irvinestown and Castle Archdale churches and a former Army Chaplain of the Royal Engineers.
Mr. Breen has spent several years researching the history of the personal life and army career of Corporal Slevin and even found conflicting records as to the correct date of the birth of Corporal Slevin as well as the spelling of his name, varying from Slevin, Sleavin, Sleevin and Sleavon as all four have been used in government and army records. The Corporal"s present day family requested the spelling of Slevin to be used throughout.
Through help from the archives of local newspapers, Frankie Roofe of Fermanagh District Council, Marianna Maguire of Enniskillen Library, the Royal Engineers Regimental Museum and Mrs. Maria Flanagan, a descendant and other relatives, Mr. Breen has put together an account of Corporal Slevin"s life.
Michael was a stone mason for the late William Archdale but in 1847, at the age of 21, he enlisted into the British Army at Lowtherstown, now Irvinestown, joining the Royal Artillery. But his building skills were recognised in the Army and he was soon transferred to the Sappers and Miners, that name later changing to the Royal Engineers.
In 1851, Michael"s regiment was posted to a tour of duty to Bermuda where he was promoted to the rank of Corporal. After five years there, they set sail for India where there had been unrest. In 1857, Sepoy troops in the British Army revolted and the Indian Mutiny of 1857-1858 started. As the war in India progressed, the Sappers and Miners were called to help with various tasks. He and his men were ordered by Lieutenant J. B.Edwards of 21 Field Company, Royal Engineers to build a parapet to provide cover for the fusiliers and allow them safe passage at Fort Jhansi. They came under heavy fire and won praise for his work. With the area back under British control, and the battle for Fort Jhansi over, Lieutenant Edwards recommended Corporal Slevin for an award for gallantry. The award of the Victoria Cross to Corporal Slevin was made in India in 1860. He was later promoted to Sergeant and his unit sent to Mauritius.
After his discharge from the Army, Corporal Slevin returned to Fermanagh and married Margaret McGoldrick and lived at Dromard, having two children, Edward and Bridget. He died in 1902 and laid to rest in St. Mary"s Churchyard, Bannagh.