A fragile piece of cloth has been framed as a precious memento of a happy event. It is a table napkin and a typical souvenir given to wedding guests in the past. The occasion marked on this napkin was the marriage of Olive Packenham Mahon to Edward Stafford King Harmon in 1914. This was a great alliance of two of Roscommon’s most prestigious families, uniting the estates of Strokestown Park and Rockingham. The marriage was short-lived however as four months later Edward was killed in action in Ypres.
From London Edward left by train for Flanders with his regiment the Irish Guards and Olive was on the platform to wave him off. She was later to remark that as he looked back from the carriage window she felt it was as if he had wanted to return to her. But Olive was never to see him again. Shortly after arriving in Flanders, Edward was missing in action. It is not hard to imagine that having no definite proof that he was dead, Olive might have hoped that by some miracle he would return. She remained at Rockingham for a number of months afterwards – but finally, with no news of her husband, she accepted that he would never come back and returned to Strokestown and her former life. Edward’s remains were never recovered.
You can still see the napkin today if you take a tour of Strokestown Park House. It hangs in the hallway and it tells us of the marriage that took place on the 4th of July 1914 in the Guards Chapel, Wellington Barracks and it reads ‘…all blessings and happiness to them.’ That summer day of happiness stands in stark contrast to the events of the following months. We now know that Olive was expecting their first child when she waved Edward off to war and in the space of 12 months she had married, was widowed and became a mother. This month marks the anniversary of Edward’s death, one hundred and two years ago on the 6th of November.