Friends of the Somme - Mid Ulster Branch  
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4304   Private Alexander McIlree
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Dated added: 30/12/2015   Last updated: 19/07/2018
Personal Details
Regiment/Service: 2nd Battalion, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers (British Army)
Date Of Birth: 29/09/1890
Died: 16/05/1915 (Killed in Action)
Age: 24
Summary      
Alexander McIlree was born at Annahavil near Cookstown and worked for Alexander Barclay at Drapersfield before joining the Inniskillings in November 1913. He was one of eight boys from the same family to join up for service during the First World War. Alexander’s body was discovered on the battlefield by two soldiers. In forwarding home his personal belongings they sent a letter saying that he had fallen in action near them, being struck by shell shrapnel and had died a soldiers death, fighting for King and Country.
Private Alexander McIlree
Further Information
Alexander McIlree was the son of John and Eliza Martha McIlree (nee McGee). Alexander was born was born in Annahavil near Cookstown on 29th September 1890.
Known family: John McIlree, Eliza Martha McIlree, Herbert McIlree, Andrew McIlree, Elizabeth McIlree (born 14th February 1871), John McIlree (16th October 1872), William McIlree (born 21st January 1875), Robert McIlree (born 28th May 1877), David McIlree (born 27th September 1879), Hessie McIlree (born 26th May 1882), Samuel McIlree (18th July 1884), Leslie McIlree (born 27th May 1886), Mary Martha McIlree (born about 1889), Alexander Sandy McIlree (born 29th September 1890), Maggie Agnes McIlree (born 3rd June 1893).
The 1901 census lists ‘Sandy’ as 10 years old at house 6 in Duffless in Tullaghoge, County Tyrone. John McIlree was an agricultural labourer.
After leaving school, Sandy McIlree worked for Alexander Barclay at Drapersfield.
The 1911 census lists Sandy as 19 living with the family at house 23 in Tullyveagh Red Row Village, Coagh, County Tyrone.
He was a member of Knockinroe LOL. 194.
Alexander McIlree enlisted in Cookstown in November 1913, joining the Inniskillings.
He was one of eight boys from the same family to join up for service during the First World War.
Alexander McIlree photo
From the Tyrone Courier dated 21 January 1915:
Newspaper Report
Cookstown Family Record : Mrs McIlree of Draperstown, Cookstown, has eight sons serving in the army at present, which probably constitutes a record for Tyrone. John and David are at present at Randalstown, in the 9th Battalion of the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers; Herbert and Andrew are in the North Irish Horse; Leslie is in the 6th Battalion of the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers; which has gone to the front lately; William is in the Welsh Mountain Artillery; Sandy is in the 3rd Battalion of the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers and Samuel is in the Field Artillery at the front.
From the Belfast Newsletter dated 21st January 1915: Cookstown Family’s Record
Mrs McIlree of Drapersfield, Cookstown, has eight sons serving in the army at present, which probably constitutes a record for County Tyrone. John and David are at present at Randalstown, in the 9th Battalion of the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers; Herbert and Andrew are in the North Irish Horse; Leslie is in the 6th Battalion of the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers; which has gone to the front lately; William is in the Welsh Mountain Artillery; Sandy is in the 3rd Battalion of the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers and Samuel is in the Field Artillery at the front. Three of them (John, David and Andrew) have South African war medals. John and Andrew were also in the Indian frontier war, 1897-98.
Early in 1915 his mother received a letter from Buckingham Palace after the Rector of Ardtrea, the Reverend W.E.R. Scott, wrote and told the King about Mrs McIlree having 8 sons serving in the army.
From the Belfast Newsletter dated 9th February 1915: Eight Sons on the Army – Tyrone Mother congratulated by the King
The rector of Ardtrea having written to the King to inform his Majesty of the fact that his parishioner, Mrs McIlree, has eight sons in the army, the following letter has been received for transmission to Mrs McIlree:-
Privy Purse Office, Buckingham Palace, 1st February 1915. Madam, I have the honour to inform you that the King has heard with much interest that you have at the present eight sons in the army. I am commanded to express to you the King’s congratulations, and to assure you that his Majesty much appreciates the spirit of patriotism which prompted this example, in one family, of loyalty and devotion to their Sovereign and Empire. I have the honour to be Madam, your obedient servant. F Ponsonby, Keeper of the Privy Purse.
From the Mid Ulster Mail dated 13th February 1915: The Fighting McIlrees
There is a widow in Tyrone,
Who is living all alone,
As the nations meet in deadly clash of arms;
But the King upon his throne,
Knows she given all her own,
To keep the country safe from war’s alarm.
Who else has given eight sons
To face the foeman’s guns –
Is it not the limit of a mother’s love?
Whilst some will grudge but one,
To fight the cruel Hun,
And ‘frightful menace from our homes remove.
That mother may be proud,
And may praises, long and loud,
Await her and her valiant family;
For you’ll search in vain today
Amid the battle fray
For a record like the house of McIlree
Napoleon once replied,
When asked, ‘Who best has tried,
Amongst women, to do service to your realm?’
‘Tis she, who has gladly given,
The most sons sent her by Heaven,
To gird the sword and don the battle helm.’
Oh gallant Brothers Eight
May ‘peace, with honour’ wait,
Upon your splendid fight for Britain’s sake;
And may all those who falter
To enlist, know that’s a halter,
Hangs above the head of all that’s now at stake.
Once let the tyrant stand
Upon you native land,
‘Twill be too late to crush him, and there’ll be
Such slaughter that you’ll pray,
Upon that dreadful day,
That you’d been a son of Widow McIlree.
From the Mid Ulster Mail dated 13th February 1915: Eight Sons in the Army
The rector of Ardtrea wrote to the King to inform him of his parishioner, Mrs McIlree, having eight sons in the army. He received a reply and an enclosed letter for her – a copy of which is as follows:-
Privy Purse Office, Buckingham Palace, 1st February 1915. Madam, I have the honour to inform you that The King has heard with much interest that you have at the present moment, eight sons in the army. I am commanded to express to you The King’s congratulations, and to assure you that His Majesty much appreciates the spirit of patriotism which prompted this example, in one family, of loyalty and devotion to their Sovereign and Empire. I have the honour to be madam, your obedient servant. F PONSONBY, Keeper of the Privy Purse. Mrs McIlree.
Private Alex McIlree was serving with the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers when he was killed in action during a night attack on enemy positions on the eve of the Battle of Festubert on Sunday 16th May 1915.
“Alexander McIlree’s body was discovered on the battlefield by two soldiers from the 1st Manchester Regiment. In forwarding home his personal belongings they sent a letter saying that he had fallen in action near them, being struck by shell shrapnel and had died a soldiers death, fighting for King and Country.”
From the Mid Ulster Mail dated Saturday 13th May 1916:
Newspaper Report
McILREE – In loving memory of 4304 Private Alexander McIlree, killed in action in France on 16th May 1915.
‘Short was thy life, my darling son, but peaceful was thy rest,
Mother misses you most of all, because she loved you the best’
Inserted by his sorrowing mother.
From the Mid Ulster Mail dated Saturday 13th May 1916:
Newspaper Report
McILREE – In loving remembrance of Private Alexander McIlree (4304), who was killed in France on May 16 1915.
‘We often think of days gone by, when we were all together,
A shadow over our life is cast, a brother gone forever’
Inserted by his sorrowing brothers and sisters
Alexander McIlree has no known grave and is commemorated on panel 16-17 on Le Touret Memorial, France.
Private Alex McIlree is also commemorated on Cookstown Cenotaph and St Andrew’s Ardtrea Church of Ireland Roll of Honour.
All seven other sons survived the war
The McIlree family sons :-
bullet Herbert McIlree (North Irish Horse)
bullet Andrew McIlree (1st Royal Irish Fusiliers / North Irish Horse)
bullet John McIlree (Private, 6th Royal Irish Fusiliers)
bullet William McIlree (Welsh Mountain Artillery)
bullet Robert McIlree
bullet David McIlree (Corporal, 9th Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers)
bullet Samuel McIlree (Royal Field Artillery)
bullet Leslie McIlree (Private, 6th Royal Irish Fusiliers / Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers)
bullet Alexander Sandy McIlree (Private, 1st Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, died)
Read more
Relevant Cookstown Area Locations
No Location Region Location Notes Longtitude Latitude
1 Duffless Cookstown East Census listing in Dufless, Tullaghoge 54.625640 -6.688017
2 Drapersfield Cookstown East Worked in Drapersfield 54.632596 -6.695742
3 Tullyveagh, Red Row Village Cookstown East Census listing in Tullyveagh, Red Row Village 54.629292 -6.688876
References and Links
No Link Reference Map Doc
1 1901 Census lists McIlree family 1901 census lists Sandy as 10 years old at house 6 in Dufless Tullaghoge
2 1911 Census lists McIlree family Lists 'Sandy' as 19 living with the family at house 23 in Tullyveagh, Red Row Village, Coagh, Tyrone
3 Comments Some details of the McIlree family
4 Facebook page Some details of Private Alexander McIlree
5 National Archives UK Medal card can be purchased here
6 The Fighting McIlrees Some details of the McIlree family (including song)
Cookstown District's War Dead Acknowledgements 2010-2018