Somme tribute led to footballing family’s double discovery

Rev Alan McCann and Cllr Billy Ashe with Ghost Tommies in the background.
Rev Alan McCann and Cllr Billy Ashe with Ghost Tommies in the background.

A Carrickfergus clergyman and former Irish League footballer has welcomed a poignant art initiative commemorating the fallen of the First World War.

Rev Alan McCann of Holy Trinity Church of Ireland in Carrickfergus has been heavily involved in the project locally.

The Tommies in the shadow of Carrickfergus Castle.

The Tommies in the shadow of Carrickfergus Castle.

His great grandfather William Kelly was killed at the Somme.

Rev McCann said: “This initiative is something which is close to many people’s hearts, including my own.

“When I became aware of the Ghost Tommies I thought they were a wonderful idea, portraying hugely powerful symbolism.

“I have a copy of William’s death notice from the time and the story has captivated me over the years.

“Coincidentally, I played Irish League football for Portadown and Glenavon. Last year, Glenavon erected a memorial to all the players who had played for the club and lost their lives at the Somme, including William.

“This was the first time I heard he had been a goalkeeper for Glenavon – and 75 years later I would play for the same team. I had no idea.

“I am delighted Mid and East Antrim Borough Council has embraced this vital project and look forward to seeing the Tommies throughout the area.”

The sculptures will feature in Ballymena, Larne and Carrickfergus in memory of all those who lost their lives in the conflict.

The council is supporting the project following a proposal earlier this year by Councillor Billy Ashe MBE.

Mr Ashe said: “The Ghost Tommies are powerful and striking displays in recognition and in honour of all those who made the ultimate sacrifice.

“The six-foot metal outlines of First World War soldiers have appeared at iconic locations elsewhere in the UK, including the Tower of London.

“These art installations are a reminder of the 888,246 British and Commonwealth soldiers who died and of those who survived but suffered physical and mental scars.”

The Ghost Tommies initiative is part of the 2018 Armistice Project, There But Not There, which aims to educate all generations, particularly today’s younger generation, to understand what led to the horrific loss of life.