Sergeant John O'Neill



John (also known as Joseph) O'Neill was born on 12 April 1881 at Drummaul, Ballymena, County Antrim, the first of seven children of linen weaver Joseph O'Neill and his wife Annie (née Moore). He may have served in the army prior to the war (which could explain his apparent absence from the Irish censuses and his rapid promotion after he joined the Inniskillings.) By 1913 he was living at 9 Canal Street Newry and working as an oil agent. On 25 August that year he married Isabella Couser in the Riverside Reformed Presbyterian Church.

O'Neill enlisted in the 6th (Inniskilling) Dragoons Service Squadron between 26 October and 6 November 1914 (No. UD/94). Soon after this he was promoted to the rank of sergeant. On 6 October 1915 he embarked for France with his squadron, which was then serving as divisional cavalry to the 36th (Ulster) Division.

In June 1916 the Inniskilling squadron joined with C and F Squadrons of the North Irish Horse to form the 2nd North Irish Horse Regiment, serving as corps cavalry to X Corps. In August-September 1917 the Regiment was disbanded and its men, following training at the 36th (Ulster) Division Infantry Base Depot at Harfleur, were transferred to the Royal Irish Fusiliers, an infantry regiment. Most, including O'Neill, were transferred on 20 September and posted to the 9th (Service) Battalion – renamed the 9th (North Irish Horse) Battalion – joining it in the field at Ruyaulcourt. O'Neill was issued regimental number 41119.

No information has been discovered about his service with the 9th (NIH) Battalion through the latter part of 1917 and during 1918, but he probably saw action with the battalion at the Battle of Cambrai in November and December 1917.

On 19 March 1919 O'Neill was demobilised and transferred to Class Z, Army Reserve. He was awarded a pension due to an injury to his left hand, his level of disability assessed at 20 per cent in September 1920.

Following his discharge O'Neill lived with his family at 45 Waterloo Road, Larne, County Antrim, and later at Shaw's Bridge, Belfast.


Two of O'Neill's brothers also served during the war – Robert O'Neill in the 6th (Inniskilling) Dragoons Service Squadron and Andrew O'Neill in the North Irish Horse.


From a list of Honour Certificates presented, Larne Times, 19 January 1918


The image of O'Neill is part of a group photo of officers and NCOs of the squadron which appeared in the Belfast Evening Telegraph of 28 January 1915. The full image can be seen here.


This page last updated 27 February 2023.