Many people walking the grounds of the Royal Hospital in Kilmainham will pass a small grave without noticing, and yet this grave is perhaps the most unusual grave in Dublin itself. In the grounds of the Hospital, one finds the final resting place of ‘Vonolel’, twenty-nine years old on passing, but a veteran of conflict.
“When the Queen awarded medals to her officers and men who has taken part in the Afghan campaign and in the expedition to Kandahar, she did not forget Vonolel. Lord Roberts hung round the animals neck the Kabul medal, with four clasps, and the bronze Kandahar star. The gallant horse wore these medals on that day in June when the nation celebrated the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee”
So read The Irish Times of October 21, 1899.
Much more information on the horse can be gathered from an earlier piece however, dating from January of the same year, when Vonolel was still living. In it, it was noted that Vonolel had come to England “having been practically all over the world with his master”. He was described as “..a type of the highest class of Arab charger” and it was noted that “he traces his descent from the best blood of the desert” It was also noted that his medals were only worn on special occasions!
It was 1877 when Vonolel was purchased from a horse dealer in Bombay, at the age of four. He was named after a great Lushai chief. He would become closely associated with Field Marshal Frederick Sleigh Roberts, a man with family links to the city of Waterford. It is perhaps with the Battle of Kandahar, the last serious engagement of the Anglo-Afghan war, that Roberts (and by extension Vonolel) is most closely associated. For victory in the Battle of Kandahar, Roberts received the thanks of Parliament.
Vonolel was retired to the Curragh in Kildare, and his grave notes that he passed away while at the Royal Hospital in Kilmainham, in June 1899. Roberts was said to be heartbroken, and Vonolel was buried in the rose gardens of the Royal Hospital Kilmainham. His military exploits are acknowledged, as is his character.
Included on the headstone are the lines:
There are men both good and wise
Who hold that in a future state
Dumb creatures we have cherished here below
Shall give us joyous greeting when
We pass the golden gate
Is it folly that I hope it may be so?
Why not stop by the grave of Vonolel the next time you find yourself in Kilmainham, and see for yourself what must surely be one of Dublin’s most unusual graves.