The Sarsfield's of Abbeyside-(A nautical journey in time)

Commander  Eugene Sarsfield.

Commander  Eugene SarsfieldCommander Eugene S. Sarsfield Playground encompasses an entire block which is bounded by East 38th Street, Avenue M, Flatlands Avenue, and Ryder Street in Brooklyn. It is quite an extensive park and playground. There is no doubt but many Dungarvan people have passed this parkland over the years not realising the connection that it has with their native townland.  In 1949 the entire property was named after Commander Eugene Sarsfield, whose family lived nearby at ‘Avenue M’.  The park was officially dedicated in 1949 and was attended by the widow of Eugene Sarsfield, Anne, (Gartland), and their two young daughters, Anne and Mary-Elizabeth. The Park, playground and plaza reflect a nautical theme inspired by Commander Sarsfield’s naval career. That really is the ending of a story which has a very interesting beginning. For The beginning we must visit the ‘Clogchas’ at St. Augustine’s cemetery at Abbeyside . Here inside the ancient ruins stands a headstone bearing the names of John and Mary Sarsfield. Their son Patrick is also interred there, and it’s probable that Patrick’s wife Honora (Crawford) is also buried there, since it was she who erected the stone. There is however no record of her passing recorded on the stone .Patrick was born in 1803 and died in 1882.The couple lived at Parsley Lane. Patrick’s death certificate lists him as a fish dealer, Their son John was born 1836 and he married Elizabeth Moloney, who was the daughter of John Moloney and Mary Hallahan. (U.S. records show that this was spelled ‘Hallihan’). The couple lived at the Square, Dungarvan.

Family in the U.S.A. believe that John either owned or worked at a boatyard located in the town. Two of their sons; Patrick born 1865, emmigrated to the US in 1890 he was aged 25. He was followed by Emmanuel in 1895, who was aged 20. Both brothers joined the US Navy and both served in the Spanish – American War.   There is a family story which comes down from Patrick. He used to say that both he and Emmanuel got off one boat and got directly onto another one. For whatever reason, this is a clear reference and indication how quickly they both joined the navy. What is interesting is that the parents, John & Elizabeth also emigrated in 1900, at that time the couple had three more children, two boys and a girl. John Sarsfield died in 1911; he was just ten years in the States. He was aged him an age of 55 when he left Dungarvan His wife Elizabeth lived six years longer. She was aged 72.

Patrick, who was the first to emigrate died in 1949 and it was his son, Eugene Sylvester Sarsfield who was born in 1902, that the Park was named after. Our story does not end there .Eugene followed in his fathers footsteps and entered the United States Naval Academy at age 20; in 1922.He graduated on the third June 1926, and was commissioned Ensign. He served on a number of vessels and also excelled at submarine instruction, & torpedo training. Eugene went on to serve on some of the more famous naval vessels including the great, USS Constitution with distinction. He returned to the New York in September 1937. Here he instructed naval reservists for two years before reporting to the USS Kearny in 1940, to serve as executive officer and navigator. This ship proudly boasted the motto ‘first to arrive - last to leave’.  Eugene Sarsfield was commended by the Secretary of the Navy, for "Leadership, personal courage and ingenuity’. The man whose father came from Dungarvan earned this particular merit award after the USS Kearny was torpedoed off Iceland on 17October 1941. It was an acknowledgement of his bravery for outstanding conduct as Executive Officer.In September 1942, Eugene supervised the outfitting of ill fated USS Maddox and then assumed command of the vessel. He was awarded the Legion of Merit for exceptionally meritorious conduct as commanding officer of the Maddox when she attacked and sank an enemy submarine on 6th of May, 1943, while acting as an escort for an Atlantic convoy. As a result of the attack, - which demonstrated Sarsfield's thorough training and sound decision, - the submarine was sunk.The destroyer arrived in Algeria in June 1943 to join the assault force for the invasion of Sicily. When the troops landed in Gela on July 10, the Maddox was on anti-submarine patrol about sixteen miles offshore. It was attacked by a German dive bomber and gravely damaged. This was a traumatic time for Eugene Sarsfield, as the Maddox rolled over; he stayed on board to supervise and desperately tried to save as many of his men as possible. His bravery and unselfishness helped to save the lives of seventy-four crewmen.  Within two minutes of the assault the SS Maddox was gone and, with it, Commander Eugene Silvester Sarsfield. He was posthumously awarded the Legion of Merit. Commander Sarsfield was also posthumously awarded the Navy Cross and cited for extraordinary heroism as commanding officer of Maddox. ‘In the face of terrific aerial bombardment, He maintained alert and accurate direction of gunfire until the German Luftwaffe bomber dropped four 250-pound bombs. Two landed in the water and two hit the fantail and detonated the powder magazine. He remained on board supervising the abandonment of the rapidly sinking ship His bravery saved the lives of 9 officers and 65 men out of the 284 on board’. Eugene Sarsfield was listed as officially missing for twelve months after his ship went down.

 The greatest accolade that the US Navy could bestow on one of its great hero’s was to name a destroyer after him .On the 27th may 1945, the destroyer USS Eugene Sarsfield was launched. It was commissioned at Boston Naval Shipyard on 31 July 1945.

At the launch of the ship- Left to right; Lt. Commander.  Hepburn Pearce who took command of the brand new destroyer USS Sarsfield. Thomas Augustine Sarsfield, facing in the suit, cousin of Eugene, Man with hat in hands is Emmanuel Sarsfield, uncle of Eugene who emigrated from Dungarvan after his brother Patrick; just behind him is Eugene’s Sister Lillian, next in the white shoes and white gloves is Eugene’s daughter Anna and next to her with the flowers is her mother and Eugene’s widow Anne. The next male to the right of her is Eugene’s father Patrick, the first of the Sarsfield’s to emigrate from Dungarvan. Eugene’s younger daughter Mary, is seen at the front with the bouquet of flowers on her shoulder.

My thanks to Tom Sarsfield in the U.S.A, for his help in researching this article.