As part of our work to help commemorate World War One, Chwarae Teg Friend, Jayne Bryant shares with us the story of Bridget Kearney – her great-grandmother.
My great-grandmother, Bridget Kearney, worked in Kynoch’s Explosives Factory in Arklow, County Wicklow during WW1.
By Jayne Bryant. Twitter: @JBryantWales.
Kynoch’s was a private munitions factory and employed several thousand men, women and children during WW1. There were over 400 buildings on site and they produced everything from bullets right up to large missiles.
Bridget told my grandfather that there were periodic explosions at the works. However, at around 3am on September 21st 1917 a massive explosion occurred at Kynoch’s. 27 people died and the explosion was heard up to 8 miles away. If it had happened during the day it is likely that hundreds would have died.
An inquiry was set up but there was no definite conclusion about the cause of the explosion. A monument marks the common grave of those who died in the local cemetery.
Bridget was always adamant that my grandfather shouldn’t work down the mines or in any armament factories because of her own experience. She talked of the friends that she had lost during the 1917 explosion and of the poor conditions that she and others experienced in the factory.
My grandfather said that she often talked to him about those who were poisoned by toxic fumes causing some to turn yellow in colour (because of the chemical TNT used in the explosives).
Apparently the uniforms that they wore had no pockets in them so that if you smoked you couldn’t keep your cigarettes inside and risk the temptation of lighting one!
Kynoch’s closed their factory in Arklow after the war and moved production to South Africa. This was done because of the increasingly volatile situation in Ireland at the time.
Bridget was born in 1889 in Arklow and came to Glyncorrwg, South Wales in 1922. She had 4 children with her husband William who was a stoker on a ship: Michael ( who died as a baby ) and Maggie were both born in Ireland and Will ( my grandfather ) and Ernie who were born in Glyncorrwg.
Bridget died aged 53 in 1942 at home in Glyncorrwg. She had been ironing a shirt for my grandfather to go out after work. Her last words to my grandfather were about her sadness that more men had died that day in WW2 and her deepest sympathies with their mothers.
I wish I had had the opportunity to meet Bridget. My grandfather talked about her often. I wonder what it must have been like and how she felt about being part of a major change in society where women were called to work.