Indian mutiny action earns Bernard the Victoria Cross

IN recent weeks ‘Peek at the Past’ has included an appeal, on behalf of one of our readers, for additional information on Private Bernard McQuirt, who won the Victoria Cross at Rowa in Central India on January 6, 1858; a Mr. J. Flynn answered that appeal, pointing our reader in the right direction.

Bernard McQuirt, it seems, was born at Donaghcloney in 1829 and by the age of 29/30 he was serving in the British Army, with the 95th (Derbyshire) Regiment of Foot, formed in 1823 when the 95th Rifles was renamed The Rifle Brigade. It was the sixth regiment to bear the number 95, a number writ large on Private McQuirt’s headstone in Donaghcloney graveyard (of which, more later).

Further reform, in 1881, would see the regiment amalgamated with the 45th Regiment of Foot as the Sherwood Foresters (Derbyshire Regiment), but at the outbreak in 1957 of the Indian Mutiny - also known, among other things, as the Sepoy Rebellion - the 95th was on its way to South Africa. It was diverted to India, where, during the following 16 months it marched 3,000 miles and fought in some 14 engagements.

It was during one such, the capture of the entrenched central Indian town of Rowa, on January 6 1858, that Private McQuirt won the regiment’s first VC as a result of a hand-to-hand fight with three men, in which he killed one and wounded another while he himself was badly injured, suffering several sabre cuts and a bullet wound.

The 95th stayed in India until returning to England in 1870 as the 2nd Battalion of the newly formed Sherwood Foresters.

It is recorded that Donaghcloney native Mr. McQuirt died in his late 50s on 5 October 1888, at Erney Street off Belfast’s Shankill Road, but his burial place was unknown until in 1993 a Belfast City Council worker found his registration and unmarked burial site in a Catholic plot at Belfast City Cemetery.

When the Sherwood Foresters Museum in England proposed to pay for a headstone, the Catholic Church refused permission to erect it at the grave site as it was a poor plot with many other remains interred; the City Council rejected a proposal to erect the memorial stone on a wall in Erney Street, where Private McQuirt died, and permission was likewise denied in Donaghcloney to erect the stone beside the World Wars memorial.

In the end a local minister granted access to the Donaghcloney Church of Ireland Graveyard, where in 2000 a British Army colour party dedicated the stone in memory of Bernard McQuirt VC.

The inscription on the stone reads, “Sacred to the memory of Private Bernard McQuirt VC 95th (The Derbyshire) Regiment who won the regiment’s first VC at Rowa, Central India, 6th January 1858; he died 5 October 1888 ‘NINETY-FIVE’.”