No. 18576, ‘B’ Company, 13th Battalion, Royal Irish Rifles
Killed in action on Saturday 1 July 1916 (aged 22)
No known grave
Thiepval Memorial, France (Pier and Face 15 A and 15 B)
Newtownards and District War Memorial
Presbyterian Church in Ireland (PCI) Roll of Honour 1914 – 1919 for
Greenwell Street Presbyterian Church Newtownards
Family grave headstone in Movilla Cemetery
John O’Neill was born on 25 May 1894 in William Street, Newtownards and he was the second son of Samuel and Sarah O’Neill (nee Bell) who were married on 11 May 1888 in Glastry Presbyterian Church. Samuel O’Neill from Ballyhalbert was a son of William O’Neill, a labourer. Sarah Bell, a minor from Ballyhalbert, was a daughter of James Bell, a farmer.
The O’Neill family lived in Ballyhalbert and then at 34 William Street, Newtownards.
Samuel O’Neill worked as an agricultural labourer and he and Sarah had at least nine children:
Martha (born 18 September 1888 in Ballyhalbert)
William (born 28 May 1890 in Ballyhalbert)
Mary (born 9 November 1891 in Ballyhalbert)
John (born 25 May 1894 in William Street, Newtownards)
James Alexander (born 16 January 1896 in William Street, Newtownards)
Ellen (born 23 April 1898 in William Street, Newtownards)
Samuel (born 9 May 1900 in William Street, Newtownards)
Thomas (born 26 March 1902 in Church Street, Newtownards)
David (born 8 February 1907 in William Street, Newtownards)
The first three children were baptised in Glastry Presbyterian Church and the remaining six in Greenwell Street Presbyterian Church Newtownards.
James Alexander O’Neill (No. 18577) served with the 13th Battalion, Royal Irish Rifles and before the war he worked as an employee of the Newtownards Chronicle.
Rifleman James Alexander O’Neill (No. 18577) survived the war.
Brothers John and William O’Neill died; John was the first of the two brothers to be killed in action although William’s death was the first to be confirmed.
Prior to the outbreak of the Great War John O’Neill worked as a labourer in a factory. He enlisted in Newtownards and served with the 13th Battalion Royal Irish Rifles (1st County Down Volunteers). He went to France with 108th Brigade of the 36th (Ulster) Division and was posted as missing in action after the first day of the Battle of the Somme. Over the ensuing months his parents received a succession of bad news. John’s brother, William O’Neill, was posted as missing in action on 3 September 1916 and his brother James Alexander O’Neill was wounded and in hospital.
In October 1916, it was officially confirmed that Corporal John O’Neill must be presumed to have been killed in action on 1 July 1916; this official confirmation came after the official confirmation that Private William O’Neill had been killed in action on 3 September 1916
In July 1917, the O’Neill family placed an Our Heroes – In Memoriam notice in the Newtownards Chronicle and it contained the verse:
We prayed that God would guard him,
And shield him in the fray;
But alas! our hopes were blighted
When the sad news came that day.
His mother, Sarah O’Neill, died of myocarditis on 11 May 1917 (aged 48). Three days earlier, on 8 May 1917, her son Samuel died of tuberculosis (aged 16). Rifleman James Alexander O’Neill (No. 18577), then stationed at Newtownards Military Camp, was with each of them when they died.
Corporal John O’Neill (No. 18576) is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial in France; on Newtownards and District War Memorial; on the family grave headstone in Movilla Cemetery, and in the PCI Roll of Honour for Greenwell Street Presbyterian Church Newtownards.