Meath Peace Group Talks
No. 62 – “Irish Involvement in the Great War, 1914-1918’
Held in association with the Meath Archaeological and Historical Society
Monday 12th June, 2006
Ardboyne Hotel, Navan, Co. Meath
Paul Bew (Professor of Irish Politics, Q.U.B.)
Tom Burke, MBE (Chair, Royal Dublin Fusiliers Association)
Cathal MacCoille (Journalist and broadcaster)
Vote of Thanks
Most Rev. Dr. Richard Clarke (Bishop of Meath and Kildare)
Introduction: John Clancy
Opening words: Cathal MacCoille (Chair)
Questions and comments
Vote of thanks: Dr. Richard Clarke
Closing words: Cathal MacCoille
Meath Peace Group 2006
Introduction and welcome: John Clancy (Meath Peace Group):“Good evening and welcome to tonight’s talk, the 62nd public talk organized by the Meath Peace Group. This is also the 2nd talk organized this year in association with the Meath Archaeological and Historical Society
Background to the talk: “This is a year for reflection, as we clearly understood when it was first announced that, on the occasion of the 90th anniversary of the 1916, Rising, our Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, felt we should have a celebration. At the time of that announcement we were over in Rossnowlagh with the Guild of Uriel and we were discussing this, and we said we really had to address the totality of what happened in that period. And this is the second talk on this – we had Professor Charles Townshend’s talk on 1916 and the Insurrection [MPG talk 61, 24th April 2006] and we are now going to discuss that period where Ireland, and the people of the island of Ireland, participated in the Great War. In or about that time, in the Meath Archaeological and Historical Society, one of our colleagues from the Louth Historical Society came over with a book – The Unreturned Army – written by Donal Hall. It’s a very interesting book, it’s about those who fought in the war from Louth, but more particularly those that lost their lives. There are two statistics that struck me personally. According to the author, there were about 3,000 enlisted men from County Louth and of that, 814 lost their lives, which is an incredible statistic. And before I hand over to our distinguished chairman, Cathal MacCoille, who needs no introduction, I would just like to read the Foreword to this book … I thought the Foreword was rather apt. There are two parts, there’s what he says and then there’s a poem by Francis Ledwidge:
‘Many years have elapsed since the men and women listed in this book died. There has been much discussion over the years concerning the factors which motivated some men to participate in the war, and others to stay at home. This book remembers those who carried out their duty, whether in Flanders or in Ireland, and mourns the loss to their families and country of all of those who died.’
[from: Donal Hall, The Unreturned Army – County Louth Dead in the Great War 1914-1918. Dundalk, 2005, published by the Louth Historical Society]
The author then quotes from a poem by Francis Ledwidge, a Meath man whom we all admire. The author extracts a piece from a poem of his, The Soldier’s Grave, which I will quote, if I may:
‘Then in the lull of midnight, gentle arms
Lifted him slowly down the slopes of death,
Lest he should hear again the mad alarms
Of battle, dying moans, and painful breath.
And where the earth was soft for flowers we made
A grave for him that he might better rest,
So, Spring shall come and leave it sweet arrayed,
And there the lark shall turn her dewy nest.’
[Francis Ledwidge, A Soldier’s Grave]
“By way of introduction, I would ask you to read the biographies of the speakers in the handout [see end of this report] and the diary of events in the coming months. And now I would like to hand you over to our distinguished guest chair, Cathal MacCoille:
Chair – Cathal MacCoille (broadcaster and journalist)
“Thank you very much, John. It is a couple of weeks since I was here, it was at Dalgan Park at your last meeting when Charles Townshend lectured, and all that I heard afterwards reminded me yet again why people say this group – I am talking about the Meath Peace Group particularly – is special. So I am not going to take up any time before introducing the speakers to you, because what they have to say and what you have to ask them and what they have to say in reply is going to take time and I am really looking forward to it.
“We’re going to look at the wide focus first – of Irish involvement in the First World War – through historian Paul Bew, whose biography is very usefully and helpfully as always spelled out for you there in your yellow page of notes, and then the narrow focus – participation of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers – through the work of Tom Burke, and again his biographical details are here for you.
“So, I am not going to say anything more about either of the speakers, except about the first which is this: working on a morning radio programme is a bit like being at school because there is a job that you have to do and there is a job which you really shouldn’t be doing – by which I mean distraction – and one of the many pleasant distractions working on a morning radio programme is when you are getting ready to do three rounds with Enda Kenny or Brian Cowan or whoever, and in the meantime my colleague gets to do an interview with Paul Bew, at which stage it is very difficult for me to concentrate because you know that what Paul Bew is going to have to say is going to be first of all well worth while, well worth listening to, and also very very interesting. So, that’s enough of an introduction, Paul Bew:
1. Paul Bew (Professor of Irish Politics, Q.U.B.): ‘The political context of Irish involvement in the First World War’
“Thank you very much Cathal, that is very kind of you. I would also like to second what Cathal said about the Meath Peace Group, and I look forward to the question and answer session later, I’ve been at a number of the Meath Peace Group meetings and I have always felt a great debt to Julitta Clancy and all that she has put into organizing them……I am going to talk this evening about the politics – the domestic politics of Irish involvement in the First World War. The first thing is that I am very well aware of the fact that you’re actually on a loser once you get into questioning the origins of any nation state. You can make a very strong case, in the case of the United States of America for saying that had the Americans lost the war with the British state in the 18th century that all manner of civilized things would have happened – the Red Indians would have been treated much better, slavery would have ended much earlier… While those are very serious arguments – they’re almost certainly true – I guarantee you you would not be very popular round about July 4th in the United States of America if you attempt to advance this argument. In other words no nation, no state – and this is no exception – is particularly keen to re-examine its origins, and issues of controversy about origins. It’s always difficult. It always seems to be an act of self-hatred. And why would you make such an act of self-hatred or self-questioning when for most people an important aspect of their life is believing that ‘we’ve arrived here, we are as good as if not better than anywhere else?’
“So you’re going against the grain when you invite any group of people to say: ‘well, here are the origins of your national story. There are some problems, there are some difficulties, there are some things that are controversial and difficult and which probably ought to be faced up to’.
“And this country is no different, no better nor worse, than any other in this respect. And you cannot talk about Ireland in the First World War without actually facing that particular question.
Irish participation in the War – figures at time of Easter 1916: “By the time of the Easter Rising, just under 100, 000 Irishmen had joined British colours in the First World War, just under 100,000. It is disproportionately unionist and Protestant but Redmond thought about 45,000 of those were his supporters. And he couldn’t be too far out. Now the first thing to say about that is: that is more than the Irishmen who engaged in any of the insurrections of the 19th century put together – Emmet , 1848 and 1867.
“That is the first thing to say. And you could talk about the number who died, and there is an argument as to how many died – 35,000 is now more likely to be accurate than 49,000 as talked about a few years ago and so on … but what there is no doubt about is that it is well beyond the numbers of Irishmen who engaged in nationalist and patriotic rebellions in the 19th century. There’s just no question about that. That gives you some kind of fix on the significance of that figure by Easter 1916.
Remembrance: “And it is obviously the case, nonetheless, that the people who actually are more remembered – until recent times almost exclusively remembered in Ireland – are the men of 1916, which is a tiny minority compared to that much larger group. And this inevitably involved among other things – among many people – quite indisputably the violation of aspects of their own family history. Because, one of the consequences of the relative success of 1916 – at least in the sense that it led to the foundation of the Irish state that we have, and indeed to the partition of the island that we have – is that nonetheless … it’s a going concern. And all going concerns, all winners, write their own history.
Sean Lemass: “And it wasn’t until Sean Lemass in the ‘60s started to talk about the fact that the Irishmen who were on the other side of the argument had claims to patriotism, that there began to be that change in attitude, and a greater growing interest in the question of the Irishmen who served in the First World War, which has developed ever since Sean Lemass made it permissible, as a Fianna Fấil Taoiseach, to say ‘well the actual history of this is a little bit more complicated than up to that point the State had considered it as being….’
“So those figures are there – they are blunt and raw, just working with them as to what they are and what they actually mean.
Democratic leadership of Irish nationalism: “What I wanted to do today is talk about the politics of this, and what we are talking about is the eclipse of the democratic leadership of Irish nationalism.
1916 – was Ireland a democracy?: “In the last few weeks we would have all seen the debate, contributed to by myself in various ways, about 1916. And one of the arguments that many people will have seen is: ‘well, was Ireland a democracy in 1916?’ And there are all kinds of arguments you could make about that: women didn’t have the vote, the Parliament had already extended its natural life in 1910 by a year because of the war, so strictly speaking the government in power had not refreshed itself by the normal electoral mandate in Britain.
“There are actually quite reasonable technical arguments which say that Ireland is not a democracy in 1916. I’m leaving out the argument which says it is not a democracy because it is part of the Union, which is by definition true for nationalism, and by definition not true for people who are not nationalist. I’m just leaving that argument to one side.
By-elections and the Irish Party: “But what there is nothing in dispute about, it seems to me, is where the democratic will of Irish people actually was. There are five by-elections between the outbreak of the First World War and the Easter Rising, in the south and west of Ireland and so on. All of them are won by John Redmond’s party. Throughout this period up to the eve of the Rising. They’are not actually particularly effective performances. I have a view about this. My own view is that in particular for farmers, the Irish Party had been a very important instrument in delivering victory for the land question, or reforms in the land question which the farmers wanted, but that was gradually coming to an end. And not only that, basically the Irish Party had delivered the land to the farmers of Ireland but it’s not just in Washington that the question is asked of politicians ‘what are you going to do for me tomorrow? Not what you did for me last year or in the years that are past’. And the Irish Party had been obviously successful in this respect but victories won in the past are just that and the world does move on. And the land issue was an issue which they mobilized on very effectively but was losing its salience.
Prosperity for famers: “And not only that but the First World War sees great prosperity for Irish farmers. Not for Dublin – which is one reason why there was a constituency in Dublin for the Rising – but a great boost in prosperity. Indeed, Cllr Jasper Tully, Irish Party MP, is quoted in the Roscommon Herald – ‘I told the farmers that their hens would effectively be laying golden eggs when the war with the Germans came, and their hens are now laying golden eggs.’ Prices go up. It was a very very prosperous time. But the prosperity is not attributed to the Party. For once, farmers’ prosperity has nothing to do with the party.
Irish Party won all the seats: “So there’s a certain lack of that ‘zing’ which would characterize the Irish Party, attendance at meetings and so on in the countryside, are not what it was, all that is true but the fact of the matter is that they won…. At certain points they were challenged, certainly people with greener views, more nationalist candidates, stood against them, yet they won all the seats. Now in that simple sense, Ireland is a democracy. There are open democratic tests of opinion between 1914 and 1915, right up to 1916, about the direction of policy. And the Irish people had the chance at five by-elections to repudiate if they so wished John Redmond’s leadership. And they most certainly do not do so. And I think it is very simple, because so much of what is said, it strikes me as missing that very basic and simple fact. There is no reason to believe anything other than that in 1916 Redmond had the support of the majority of Irish nationalists. We have no reason to believe other, and every reason to believe he did have that support, because of the results of the by-elections which are not very impressive but nonetheless he has that support. It’s solid enough, it’s a solid majority, certainly as good as was later gained by his opponents. So I think that is something that really has to be borne in mind. …
1914: Redmond considered things were working: “And, against what you understand, Redmond considered that things were working. I want to give two quotations to show this attitude. The first is at Vinegar hill in Wexford just a few months into the war:
‘People talk of the wrongs done to Ireland by England in the past. God knows, standing on this holy spot, it’s not likely that any of us can ever forget – though God grant we all may forgive – the wrongs done to our fathers 100 and 200 years ago. But do let us be a sensible and truthful people, do let us remember that we today of our generation are a free people, we have emancipated the farmer, we have housed the agricultural labourer, we have won religious liberty, we have won free education. We have laid broad and deep the foundations of national prosperity and, finally, we have won an Irish Parliament and an Executive responsible to it, and I say to Ireland that all these things are at stake in the war.’
“So that is Redmond’s definition of the situation as it exists in 1914. That, basically, the quarrel with England is over, that various instalments of justice had been made and self-government had been conceded. And that is why we have an interest in taking the same side as England in this war. It is very important to understand this. It is very important to understand that for Redmond Home Rule
is not a second best. It actually is the best, what is to be desired. It reflects the realities… . he would regard separatism as unrealistic, it does not as a policy reflect the actual connection that exists between the Irish and English people which had formed over centuries.
Social reforms and subsidization: “Above all, of course, with the coming of old age pensions under the first great liberal and social reformist government, Ireland is being subsidized, and that’s another major factor in this – for Redmond believing that continued links with Britain were desirable, because old age pensions and other social reforms are being paid for by the British taxpayer from 1908 onwards and these are reforms which it is unlikely Ireland could afford out of its own resources. And it turns out to be the case: when Irish independence comes old age pensions have to be cut. So he believes there are profound economic reasons, profound political reasons which reflect the fact that a moment in history has been reached, of rapprochement: a fair deal has been reached.
North: “There is the problem of the north. But don’t forget the understanding which he had reached in 1914: no Stormont parliament, direct rule. Don’t forget Redmond’s assumption that after Home Rule Irish MPs would stay in Westminster which means that nationalist MPs would be able to scrutinize the operation of direct rule in the North. Something like direct rule with a green tinge – which is exactly what was regarded as a great triumph when negotiated by Garret Fitzgerald in 1985, but was actually available in 1914/1915, before 1916 changed everything with respect to the northern settlement and led to the unionists getting a much better deal and northern Catholics getting a much worse deal than they would otherwise have got. That’s important, I think, to understand, where Redmond is coming from. And there is no sense in which Redmond is in any despair about how things are going.
Redmond disconnected from Dublin realities: “There is a very interesting patch in Emily Lawless and Michael McDonagh’sbook [Ireland],which gives you some sense of where Redmond thought things were. And I think there is a sense of course that Redmond was I think disconnected from Dublin realities. It’s not that he didn’t come back to Ireland, but his house in Dublin was boarded up, he didn’t live there, he had a small flat in London and he would go straight to Wicklow, to his own shooting lodge, where he would be surrounded by his own people. I think there was an awful lot going on in Dublin which he just quite literally never paid any attention to. He would go straight to Wicklow when he was in Ireland and he tended to stay there among people he trusted, a particular culture of its own, all very loyal to him, mostly speaking Irish most of the time, a world he was very relaxed in.What was bubbling away in Dublin was something which didn’t really catch his eye in a way it should have done actually.
“This is how Michael McDonagh who knew him well describes him on the eve of the Rising in 1916:
‘Redmond looked upon all that was going on – the apparent preparations for a Rising – as play-acting by nobodies, a manifestation of the histrionic side of the Irish character by persons of no consequence. He was without fear for his position in Ireland, had got his influence over the coalition, prevented the threatened disruption of Irish civil life by conscription, and had not the south and the west voluntarily joined the colours to the number of 45, 000? That indeed was a remarkable response, everything considered, and, looking to the future, Redmond saw the reconciliation of north and south and Home Rule established by general consent.’
Redmond’s calculation: “And Redmond thinks two things. One is he actually hopes that the war will bring north and south together, that fighting together on the same side will actually humanize the differences and reduce the differences. There is some evidence something of that happened before 1916 but you may say it is unrealistic. That’s not all he thinks about this, that is only a part of his thinking. The other part of his thinking is that you cannot actually argue for Home Rule as he and Parnell … had done and say to the British the crucial thing is that in any international conflict you can safely give us Home Rule because we will back you, and then not do it.
“You cannot say, as nationalism had been saying throughout the 19th century, ‘there is no strategic problem in giving us political freedom, no danger for your own security, we will be there for you when it comes to the crunch’, and not be there. That is critical. He believes that if the unionists are the only people to do that then there is absolutely no doubt that the divisions in Ireland will be deeper, that the unionist bargaining position at the end of the war will be stronger. As indeed it was because of 1916 and the Somme. The accommodation was much stronger than what it was at the beginning of the war. There was much greater emotional leverage over the British political establishment and the British state….
Redmond not a man in despair: “So it’s important to understand the calculations that were in Redmond’s mind for a settlement that was penciled in in legislation – direct rule with a green tinge, and all the politics of it. He is not a man in despair. For example, throughout 1915 the government is reconstituted. Everybody accepts it’s a bad moment with people like Carson coming into government, everybody accepts that there is going to be disdain in nationalist Ireland. Had not Carson been leading an illegal opposition to Home Rule before 1914? All perfectly good reasons why nationalists should be offended. But Redmond was not. It’s very important to understand this. It has been said that the unionists were offered a seat but Redmond wasn’t. He was offered a seat, he turned it down! There’s a bit of a comedy about it. They were sent down from the Castle, banged on the door of the shooting lodge, said ‘we are from the Castle’, and the cook said ‘get out Mr Redmond, they’ve come to arrest you.’ Actually what they had done is they had come down to offer him a place in the Cabinet! He said no because it was the position of all Parnellites and nationalists that until Home Rule is won you do not take office. His view was that once it was won, there was no reason why Irish politicians – those who remained in Westminster – didn’t play as great a role as was possible to them, as the Scots do today even though Home Rule has been granted to Scotland. That was his view, but not before, as it wasn’t in effect, he wasn’t going to do it. The very fact that he was offered a place in Cabinet gives a very strong sense of the leverage that he had over British policy – not always effective, not in terms of the proper recognition of Irish Brigades and so on, but pretty effective, and in a lot of what went on Redmond could always guarantee he would be taken at least seriously by the British state.
Easter Rising: “So that is the situation on the eve of 1916. This is why it is so important to actually get what’s at stake here, and what happens in 1916. I know Charles Townshend [Professor of History, Keele University] talked to you about whether or not 1916 is designed as a blood sacrifice or as a serious military operation [Meath Peace Group talk no. 61, 24 April 2006]. The truth is I believe you can separate these two things. It had to be serious enough, because if it is patently obvious that all you are doing is a blood sacrifice then that’s just not going to work with public opinion. It’s perfectly obvious to me that they actually had no sense of succeeding. If you look at the interviews, look at people who knew the leaders who survived, they knew they had no sense of succeeding. The fundamental thing was to do better than the Fenians had done in 1867, to do better than the Young Irelanders had done in 1848, and to do better than Emmett had done in 1803. And that’s what they do. And they do substantially better than that.
“And the second thing is that once it’s actually done, then you have to create a situation where you are not regarded by ordinary Irish people as crazies. And there’s an uneasy mood at first. Everybody knows this. Everybody knows that the initial reaction is very uneasy, a lot of ordinary Irish don’t know who these people are. ‘Who are these guys? We never heard of them, we never elected them to anything’, and so on. Their names are famous today, their names were not known to the great majority of Irish people in the Spring of 1916. What are they doing?
Badge of identity – Catholicism: “Which is why it is tremendously important that the whole badge of Catholicism has to be in this situation. Language is a badge but let’s be honest, most Irish people then and now do not speak Irish. It’s a political badge in other countries but most Irish people then and now don’t speak Irish. The badge is there, it is the emotional appeal in establishing: ‘we are your brothers and sisters, we are not crazies, ultra-leftists, Marxists, mad people’. That’s why Pearse is so relieved when Connolly – whose record as a Catholic was, to say the least, not perfect – when Connolly makes his peace with the Church. And why does Connolly do that? He asks his wife, as a Protestant, to convert. Now what does this tell you? This Marxist internationalist socialist proletariat knows how you have got to be seen by the plain people of Ireland. And they have to identify with you against the British, and the common link is religion. It is just so crucial to what happens here.
“All the most emotional accounts in the Catholic Bulletin and so on, by Fr Flanagan – effectively the unofficial priest of the Rising – stresses the bravery, the heroism, the non-drinking of the men involved, all of which is true, but above all that they are good Catholics. That is the message, and it has to be because it is the only way to reach out to the community as a whole. That they were good socialists and brave – that.would not have done it.
Exclusion:“The problem is that once you make that identification, a quarter of the people of the island of Ireland are going to be made even more cold and even more outside. That is one unavoidable consequence. Those people who are not Catholic are going to be outside this emotional drama that is established after the executions between those who participated in the Rising and the plain people of Ireland.
Executions change everything: “My view is that from the moment of the executions it’s over for Redmond. I know there are people who argue that later negotiations and so on might have led to Home Rule, my view is that the genie was out of the bottle and everything is changed. And if you actually look at what the men of 1916 say in their memoirs, they will say that ‘immediately after the Rising the people of Dublin were contemptuous of us but at the time we were taken off to Frongoch a few weeks later, after the executions, we were heroes’. And I think that everything changes. But it changes through that identification.
“And they knew it all along. Eamon Ceannt knew it, for example. Look at his letters to his wife. He tells her how she is to going to conduct herself as a leader of this new nation. He hasn’t the slightest doubt. He participated in a rising which has gone down to a heavy note of defeat and he doesn’t even have the slightest doubt in his letters that his wife is going to be one of the first ladies of the new independent Ireland. He doesn’t even have the slightest doubt! And look how he dies: clutching a crucifix, blood spattered all over the place. Everybody reads it. Can you imagine the emotional impact of that, the drama? And you can’t escape it. Can you imagine the profundity of that emotional impact?
“And that is why this thing then takes off, because they have established ‘we are yourselves, we are the neighbour’s children’, to use Nell McCafferty’s expression, ‘we are not weirdos, outsiders’. And most people do go with it on that basis. They cannot say no. They cannot reject people who have established themselves so clearly – by their actions and by their heroism – as basically Irish with the rightful claim to the support of Irish people, certainly as opposed to what – the British State in Ireland? British soldiers on the streets of Dublin? Opposed to that, there is no contest.
Redmondites weakened by participation in the war: “Now there might have been a contest with Redmondite Ireland but this is where you have your difficulty. Even on the eve of the Rising in Cork, the Redmondites on St Patrick’s Day were demonstrating and anti-Redmondites were demonstrating….. There were two demonstrations on the same day – something like 600-700 radicals, the sort of people who get involved in the Easter Rising, and something like about 400 Redmondites. They’re in the minority. They are carrying a banner saying ‘400 of us are at the Front’. One of the crucial things you have to understand is that the Redmondites are weakened by the fact that so many of their brave young men have gone, many of them never to return. It’s as simple as that. In every town, in every village in Ireland, what you can actually see from the police reports, what happened on the St Patrick’s Day demonstration in Cork in 1916 is reproduced. It’s a tremendously important thing to understand. This other grouping, it’s just not there, it’s gone.
Two worlds:“It affects things in certain ways. Some of you may well have read Sean MacBride’s memoirs. He talks about the day of Kevin Barry’s execution. Everybody knows the song, everybody knows the emotion – the ‘lad of eighteen summers’ – the British soldier he killed is actually younger. Is there a person on the island of Ireland who hasn’t heard the song? I don’t believe it. Thousands of Irish people have been moved by it, it is one of the great songs of the revolutionary period. MacBride says something, he says UCD medical school, where Kevin Barry was a young, not particularly active student, was totally ‘cold’. MacBride actually gets three or four, or five or six friends and puts together a little demonstration just to make the point because he couldn’t believe it. I’ll tell you why UCD medical school was totally cold. Do you know how many UCD doctors got Military Crosses in the British Army in the First World War? 47 Military Crosses alone from UCD medical school! And it is not an accident that in Kevin Barry’s own college – although not in the pubs of Ireland – for subsequent decades there is coldness, because it reflects the actual history of that particular place and the commitment of others. 47 from UCD medical school got Military Crosses. There are some actually who received more distinguished military honours.
“That is a very very substantial contribution, an entirely different culture, coming from an entirely different place, but it is something which is important to understand.
Internecine split: “To give you another example of this, where two worlds address each other. A chap who had been at school with De Valera in Blackrock – I’ll see if I can find the quote – there is a letter which appears in the Irish Independent [July 1917] saying ‘I notice that Eamon de Valera was commander in charge of Boland’s Mill garrison …what I want to remind him is’ – and this was a guy who was in school with him and who was in the British Army. He said: ‘I have just come back’ – and he describes a particular battle scene where four boys from Blackrock were carried across the battleground by British soldiers trying to save their lives, two of them didn’t make it. ‘We were all at school together’. You have to realize that this is an internecine kind of split within Catholic nationalist Ireland – of deep profundity – when you read that letter. ‘People we were in school with, Eamon, and look what you did.’ He was coming from a totally different perspective. There’s no reply to that letter addressing de Valera.
“But what I am trying to say is that what you are dealing with here, if you are talking about the Irish involvement in the war, you are talking about something which is deep and which has crucial implications for what subsequently happens within Ireland itself. And these are matters which until recently – but I have to say, that from the moment [Sean] Lemass uttered those words [in 1966] there has been a greater willingness to talk about and to open out these issues.
Redmond’s project defeated by Irish nationalists: “So what you have is the situation where in Ireland you have thousands of young men, in 1915/16, who wanted the adventure of war but they don’t want it on Britain’s terms. That’s actually a quote from Stephen Gwynn, the nationalist MP for Galway for ten years, and a loyal Redmondite, and the author of the book John Redmond’s Last Years. And when writing of Redmond’s last years, in 1921, what Gwynn says is this:
‘for all the opposition that he received from unionism, the Home Rule crisis and Carson and so on, the people who actually defeated Redmond’s project were Irish nationalists, not his erstwhile enemies.’
“Now that is something that when Gwynn argued this even in the Freeman’s Journal, which is more or less the nationalist paper at that time, there is actually shock: ‘how could you actually be saying that? We all know that sadly John Redmond went down, but it was all the unionists’ fault, the British fault’…. That was not Redmond’s own view of what actually happened. What Gwynn is saying is that he was actually defeated by other nationalists, people who share his ideal or objective of a self-governing Ireland.
Implications for the North: “But the consequences of this are so profound and so difficult to deal with that there is a need to actually put it in a corner and not actually debate and discuss these issues. The implications for the North are painfully obvious. The actual existence of a unionist state at all is a function of 1916 and of the return of violence to Irish politics. It is the next logical step. There is no discussion or argument before the war of actually establishing any form of unionist state. The existence of ‘B’ Specials and so on is a function of the violence introduced in 1916 and the introduction of the use of the gun into Irish politics. I have to say the unionists introduced the play for the gun between 1912 and 1914. That is a fact that cannot be avoided, but it is important to say that it is not actually used. But there is absolutely no question that many of the things we see as most deforming as a function of 20th century Ireland, particularly the circumstances of Belfast in the early 1920s and the formation of the unionist state, are all directly related to the events of 1916 and the way in which Ireland’s involvement in the war actually worked out. Exactly what Redmond feared came about, that Ireland at the end of war was not in the position to be able to say to Britain ‘in an international crisis, we will be standing by you.’ And in consequence, the unionists were able to get a far better deal – and a far more negative deal from the point of view of northern nationalists – than they would have got otherwise from the British establishment and the British State
Difficult questions: “So these are very difficult questions. They are difficult questions to raise. I started by saying that in any country in the world there is difficulty, unease and a reluctance to entirely understand or be bothered in actually looking at the roots of one’s own national existence, and the American example is not that bad a one.
Need for acknowledgment: “The truth of the matter is that all national states have their origins in the use of force, ambiguous and so on. The mature thing now – there is no question that this happened, there is no question that the Ireland we have is the Ireland we have, and it does flow very largely from 1916 and nothing is ever going to change that – the mature thing, though, is to acknowledge at least some of the downsides of a particular process. That I think is all that one could do here. To attempt to reconstruct, to play games of what might have been – a Home Rule Ireland or whatever, or a different development for Ireland – is really fruitless. It has happened, and we have the Ireland that we have, and we have all the circumstances that we have, but it doesn’t seem to be realistic to say that that means that therefore we shouldn’t consider some of the negativities and the downsides which have flowed from the 20th century, from the nature of Ireland’s involvement in the First World War and the political consequences that flowed from it. Thank you very much.”
Chair (Cathal Mac Coille): “Thank you very much, Paul. … you’ve been talking about something which, just listening to you, it occurred to me, that this was something we didn’t do, or it wasn’t done in this country in the ‘20s or ‘30s, or ‘40s, ‘50s and ‘60s, that particularly the side that you were talking about, the side of people who went to fight on the British side in the First World War, they almost went underground. I met some of these people – not people who fought in the First World War but who fought in the Second. But they became people who for one reason or another kept the head down. Now it wasn’t all the fault of the other side – we are in some ways dealing with a dialogue here of positions taken and decisions made by people to fight with one army or another army, or to fight on one military side or the other. And I wonder was there ever a dialogue between them? I doubt if there was…”
“As a journalist I had the privilege of meeting people who fought – for example I remember, at the time of the first IRA ceasefire in 1994, talking to people who had participated in D-Day and also speaking on various occasions as a journalist to people who had fought in UN service or who had served on UN duty. But one of the things that came through to me very strongly was the respect that these people had for each other: that this was not an argument that these people wanted to pursue, in fact there wasn’t any argument. They didn’t see a dichotomy in what they did and what someone else did – fighting or serving in either a British army or an Irish army. Of course there are differences, and what is fascinating about what Paul is writing about and talking about is that in some ways this is stuff that we just didn’t do. Unfortunately when these people were alive, they could have talked or they could have written, I don’t know. That letter you mentioned in the Irish Independent…?
Paul Bew: “Yes that was in July 1917…”
Cathal MacCoille: “…. We’re coming to this late. Anyway that’s the wide view, we are now going into the specifics and somebody … a glimpse of what brought Tom Burke to the work that he has done on the Royal Dublin Fusiliers, a fascinating story, the genesis of Tom Burke’s research, and he has built on that in ways that are very impressive as we are now going to hear….
2. Tom Burke (Chair, Royal Dublin Fusiliers Association): ‘The Royal Dublin Fusiliers in the Great War’ [illustrated talk]
“Thank you very much for having me here. … What I hope to do is to try and put a human face on what Paul was talking about earlier on. To bring a bit of humanity back into something that’s totally abstract. I mean history is in the past, it’s long ago, it’s far away. You can’t touch it. But we all have brothers and sisters and fathers and mothers. The loss of a loved one through accident, natural cause or conflict is painful. That pain is a commonality we share with that generation who went through the Great War because it gives us a feeling of what they went through and endured.
“Now Paul has spent the last 45 minutes giving us the picture about what happened from a political context. You cannot talk about the First World War and the history of Ireland in that period without linking the two together. I could summarise Paul’s debate with these two photographs here [slides]. The one on the left shows a Dublin Fusilier, we know by his cap badge. The other Dubliner is Sir Edward Carson. It’s interesting to note that the Dublin Fusilier was a member of the National Volunteers who wanted Home Rule, and Carson, as you know, did not.
Outbreak of war: “The debate about Home Rule in Ireland came to a head at a conference in Buckingham Palace on the 23rd of July 1914. And on the 24th, the day that the Buckingham Palace Conference failed, Herbert Asquith went into the House of Parliament and he informed the House that the conference on Irish Home Rule had failed and so too had the Austrian ultimatum to Serbia. On the 29th July 1914, the Austrians bombarded Belgrade.
“I am not going to discuss the origins of the Great War. In terms of Germany invading France, the real prize for the Germans was in fact Russia. Their thinking was that if they were going to fight a battle to control Europe, they couldn’t fight it on two sides. The first thing they had to do was to knock out the French, and then take on the Russians before their huge army could mobilise. To knock out the French – there was a plan devised in 1905 by the Chief of the Imperial Staff, Field Marshal Von Schlieffen. His plan was to sweep through Belgium, take Paris and take the French armies from behind.
British Expeditionary Force and 2nd Dublins: “The British response to the invasion of Belgium was to send an expeditionary force known as the BEF which was made up of about 100,000 men. Their plan, and again it was pre-planned, was to come in alongside the French and assemble at the village of Maubeuge in northern France. This initial expeditionary force sent to France contained every Irish regiment of the British Army other than the Dublin Fusiliers. The Dublin Fusiliers had two regular battalions at the outbreak of the Great War. The 1st Battalion (nicknamed ‘The Blue Caps’) was in Fort St George in Madras in India. The 2nd Battalion (nicknamed ‘The Old Toughs’) was at home, and home for the 2nd Dublin Fusiliers was in Bordon Barracks in Gravesend – it’s now a supermarket. They were kept at home because the British War Office feared that there would be a German invasion of Britain, so they were kept at home to defend Britain. For fear of being over-run by superior German firepower and infantry, the French 5th Army began to withdraw and for the same reasons on 24 August, the BEF began to retreat from the Belgian City of Mons. It was during this retreat that the 2nd Dublin Fusiliers, as part of the 4th Infantry Division, were brought over from England and placed around the town of Le Cateau. Their objective was to provide a rear guard force that would cover the retreating BEF.
Dublin casualties: “Now, the consequences of all the great intrigue and high political drama that occurred in Europe and Ireland over the past months and year filtered its way down to a side street off Dorset Street in Dublin.
Pte. John Boland: “Here’s a photograph of four Dublin Fusiliers [slide]: one chap in the photograph is Private John Boland. He came from No.18 Russell St which is just off Dorset St. Had he survived the war his next door neighbour would have been Brendan Behan who lived in No.20 Russell St. The house is gone. Before the war, John was a messenger boy in a little retail shop in Dorset St. In 1913, the year of the General Lockout, he lost his job and he joined the army. He was killed just outside the village of Le Cateau near Clary. John was 19 years of age when he died. I want you to remember that little French villageof Le Cateau because it has implications towards the end of this little talk.
“On the same day that John was killed, Matthew Sharkey from Corporation Buildings in Foley St., George Fraser from Pembroke St in Dublin, and a local man named Sgt. Joseph Lynch, aged 33, from Slane, Co. Meath was also killed. This is the last letter John wrote home to his mother [slide], from ‘ Bordon Barracks, 2nd Royal Dublin Fusiliers, Gravesend.’ … He could read, he could write. In his last lines, he talks about his friend Carney getting the handy job as an officer’s servant. He wrote. ‘ I’ll close now, will write soon, I remain your loving son, Jack’. That was his last letter sent home.
“Three things happened to the 2nd Dublins during that rear-guard fighting around Clary and Le Cateau: some were killed, some were taken prisoner, and some survived.
Prisoners of war – Limburg: “Those that were captured were put into a prisoner of war camp at Limburg. This is a photograph taken by Fr. Crotty who was sent up from Rome to act as chaplain to the Irish soldiers in Limburg. Limburg was a prisoner-of-war camp. It was the prisoner-of-war camp that Roger Casement went in to try and recruit a brigade. He went in to recruit a brigade of soldiers from a group of men who had come through utter hell with each other. They had seen their mates butchered and cut to ribbons by German machine-gun fire and shrapnel. These Irishmen had come through hell. They were not going to betray their fellow soldiers beside whom they had fought and died. Casement misjudged these Irishmen’s loyalty to each other. Out of 2,500 Irish soldiers who were congested in Limburg, Casement managed to recruit 40. One of them was a Dublin Fusilier.
Christopher McDonald: “One of the Dublin Fusiliers that spent the entire war in Limburg was Christopher McDonald. Before the war Christopher was a gardener, he was one of the first babies born in Holles St. Christopher was in the 2nd Dublins. He survived Limburg and came back to Ireland in what, as Professor Bew has told us, was a difficult time for British soldiers. He left Dublin and went to Glasgow, got a job on the railways and died in 1972.
Irish memorial at Limburg: “This little cross [slide] is a Celtic Cross put up in Limburg just after the war. Fr Crotty blessed it and it lists the Irishmen – I think there were about 45 Irishmen – who died in Limburg. That particular cross went into ruin over the years. However, recently the Taoiseach’s Office issued a grant to a group of local and Irish people to restore the cross.
Recruitment campaign: “Back in Ireland, a recruitment campaign was going on. The Secretary of State for War, General Kitchener, had no time for ‘political’ armies. In fairness to him he was consistent on this issue. Lloyd George wanted to set up the 38th (Welsh) Division and he wanted to recruit Welsh officers who spoke only Welsh. In Ireland, three infantry divisions were raised by voluntary recruitment.
Recruitment figures: “The recruits came from every section of Irish society. The Dublin and Wicklow Manure Company lost 200 to recruitment. UCD – 400 undergraduates volunteered, Trinity College Dublin – 869 undergraduates. Clongowes Wood College – 516 ex-students and 6 Jesuit priests who were members of staff. Derry National Volunteers – 600 joined, some of whom went into ‘C’ Company of the 6th Royal Irish Regiment. Approximately 500 Belfast nationalists enlisted, many of whom went into the 6th Battalion of the Connaught Rangers. What’s interesting is the rejection rates. Most of them were rejected because they had varicose veins and bad teeth!
Guinness’s: “Guinness brewery in Dublin – 645 members of staff enlisted. They and Jacobs’ employees who enlisted had the luxury of their job back if they were lucky enough to survive the war. 103Guinness employees were killed in the First World War. While away at the front, wives of married men received half their husband’s wages.
Pals’ units: “The recruitment people in Ireland used all kinds of interesting psychological techniques and touched on Irish sentiments such as Irish patriotism. Recruitment notices appeared in the Irish Times and other newspapers. The concept of a ‘Pals’ unit’ was born in the recruitment campaign in the Great War. Bring along a pal with you was the idea. One picture showed a group of Dublin Fusiliers who had a board beside them upon which was inscribed the words ‘everybody’s doing it’, i.e. enlisting.
Recruiting offices: “One of the biggest recruiting offices that existed on the island of Ireland was in Pearse St. – Great Brunswick St. then. And the interesting thing about the building is that it is still there today. The Pearse family stone works is next door to it! I often wondered what Patrick Pearse thought of having a big recruiting office next door to the family business.
Recruiting tram: “There was a recruiting tram that travelled through Rathmines, down through Harcourt St and down into the centre of Dublin. It stopped at Foster Place. The point was that if a potential recruit couldn’t get to the recruiting office, the recruiting office got to the recruit. So nobody was going to be left out. On the tram were the words, ‘Irish men enlist today’.
“Now back to war.
Western Front: “By the end of 1914, the Western Front as we know it today had essentially formed itself by default. The Germans withdrew back to the Marne, the French and British couldn’t get across the Marne so they went around it. And when they went around it, the Germans went round them, and then the British went around them again. What happened was a kind of outflanking movement of armies heading north until they got to the North Sea. That out-flanking movement was called the ‘Race to the Sea’. By the time the race ended, the British ended up around the city of Ypres in Flanders. On their left was the small Belgian army and on their right were the French.
Ypres: “The British had very logistical reasons to be in Ypres. The army was supplied from the ports of Dover and Southampton to Calais and Le Havre. They settled into this region of Flanders and by the end of 1914, the war of movement on the western front had stopped.
Christopher Rogers: “In the months leading up to Christmas 1914, many infantry battalions called up their reserves to replace the men who were killed or taken prisoner in the battle that took place along the Western Front in the previous months. These were men who had served their time in the regular army and went onto the army reserve list. One of these army reserve men was Christopher Rogers, a carpenter who lived with his wife and children in … Bishop Street, Dublin. He was called up and went to the 2nd Dublins who were near Armentieres in France. He wrote home to his wife telling her everything’s grand. And she wrote back to him saying, ‘you would be surprised to see the children, Mary Ellen is always watching the letter man for a letter from daddy, Christy is getting to run about’. Christopher Rogers was not long in France when he was killed by a sniper in Christmas week
Chemical weapons (1915): “By the beginning of 1915 the Western Front had been well established and the war of movement was going nowhere. Recruitment carried on with a pace back in Ireland. For the first time in the history of modern warfare the Germans introduced chemical weapons. To use the present-day term, they were indeed weapons of mass destruction. In April 1915, German chlorine gas released from cylinders, blew over the British lines just north of Ypres. It first hit Canadian troops and French-Nigerian, colonial troops. The killing was appalling and a gap appeared in the Canadian lines. In order to plug this gap, hundreds of troops were rushed northeast of Ypres to stop the German advance. Some of these troops were from the 2nd Dublins and 1st Royal Irish Fusiliers.
Pte. Hugh Lynch: “Private Hugh Lynch of the 2nd Dublins came from Railway St., Dublin. He lost his job as a messenger boy, in Amiens St., and at the age of nineteen he joined up in1913. According to family, he was a religious young fellow. The War Office in London wrote to Mrs Lynch and told her. ‘In reply to your letter of the 13th May, I am directed to tell you that the regimental number …. Hugh Lynch, 2nd Battalion Royal Dublin Fusiliers, has not appeared on our casualty lists.’
“His body was never found. The poor chap was blown to bits. His mother cut that little paper clipping of her son’s death and for years she kept wrapped up in a Sacred Heart scroll.
Dichotomy of Irish history – the Malone brothers: “The Germans never exploited the break in the line in the April gas attack. They launched a similar attack on the St. Julien line again in May 1915.It was during this attack on a Farm called ‘Mouse Trap Farm’ that Sgt. Willie Malone of the 2nd Dublin Fusiliers was killed. In April 1916 during the Easter Rising, his brother, Volunteer Michael Malone of the Irish Volunteers was killed at 25 Northumberland Road near Mount Street Bridge in Dublin. If there was ever a simpler example of the dichotomy of Irish history, it is the death of these two men. The interesting thing about Michael and Willie Malone was that their sister, Bridget Malone, married Dan Breen. William Malone was a carpenter before he joined up. On the wall of the house at 25 Northumberland Road, there’s a memorial to Volunteer Michael Malone, ‘C’ Company, Ốglaidh na hẾireann,. There will soon be a memorial at Mouse Trap farm to remember his brother, Willie Malone.
Tragedy of war – brothers killed: “A paper cutting from the Irish Independent dated May 1916 summarises what we have been talking about all night, the tragedy of war. The cutting records the deaths of three brothers and their mother asking the people of Dublin to pray for her three sons in the parish of St Nicholas of Myra, off Francis St. They were the McDonald brothers, Peter, Patrick and John, from Bride St. in Dublin. There are mothers in the audience tonight. One day you get a letter home telling you your son has been killed, your eldest son is dead. A week or two later, you get a second letter telling you your other two sons are dead. There is only a certain amount of grief that any human being can take. Bride St. was a tenement part of Dublin, it was poor, a no-hope part of Dublin’s inner city. They joined the army because perhaps there was nothing else for them to do.
Gallipoli: “Gallipoli is a little peninsula at the tip of the Dardanelles. The attack on Gallipoli was Churchill’s brainwave. His idea was to create a new front, draw German troops from the Western Front and supply the Russians with guns and ammunition. Having one of Germany’s allies, Turkey, out of the war would give the Allies a morale-boosting victory. Apparently the night before the Allies went in on D-Day in the Second World War, Churchill couldn’t sleep, worrying about what was going to happen – was the fiasco at Gallipoli going to happen all over again?
“In terms of the Dublin Fusiliers and the other Irish regiments: the 1st Battalion of the Dublins were in Fort St. George in Madras in India. They were sent back to England to re-train and re-fit and, as part of the 29th Infantry Division, to set sail for Gallipoli and attack the Turks. On 25 April 1915, they landed on the shores of Cape Helles at the southern tip of the Gallipoli peninsula. A beautiful old Byzantine fort stands above the beach on which they landed. Along with the Munster Fusiliers and the Royal Hampshire Regiment, they landed off a steam collier called the SS River Clyde. Sides had been cut out of the Clyde and the landing plan was for the men to run down galley planks onto pontoons that had been dragged near the shore alongside the ship. From the pontoons the men would jump onto the beach and advance inland to fight the Turks. A firing machine gun would cover the men coming ashore. The German commander advising with the Turks, General Von Sanders, knew that Cape Helles was a vitally important part of the peninsula to defend so he heavily defended it with barbed wire under the water, and along the ridge he placed more wire and machine-gun placements.
“The Dubs, Munsters and Hampshires did not stand a chance. Further round the coastal head, Australians and New Zealand forces tried to land as well. They too were held back by brave Turks.
Pte. Tom Errity: “One of the Dublin Fusiliers killed was Pte. Thomas Errity, aged seventeen from Newtownmountkennedy. He and his family of nine lived on a small farm. He joined up in 1913. The Roman Catholic Chaplain to the Dublin Fusiliers, Fr. Flynn, was killed giving absolution to a dying fusilier . Tom Errity is buried in a cemetery on the beach in Gallipoli. It was once called the ‘Dublins ‘ Cemetery’.
Joseph Berrils – youngest RDF casualty: “The youngest Dublin Fusilier to die in the entire war was a young fellow called Joseph Berrils from Drogheda, Co. Louth. He was only fifteen years of age when he died at Gallipoli. He should never have been there, a mere child.
Peter Byrne: “Peter Byrne joined up in 1912. He was shot in the lungs and was taken back to Ireland and spent the rest of the war in Leopardstown Park Hospital….. In May 1941, the Germans bombed North Strand in Dublin. Peter Byrne had a job with the Irish Independent and he was coming home the night the Germans bombed the North Strand and he had just gone over Annesley Bridge and the bomb went off. He looked back and he said. ‘Ye bastards, you missed me in the first one, you missed me in the second one and you’ll never get me now.’ Peter Byrne died in 1975.
Suvla Bay: “In terms of the objectives, the April attack on Cape Helles failed. In order to out-flank the Turkish defences, the Allies, which contained Australian and New Zealand divisions (ANZACs) attacked what they called Suvla Bay on the western side of the peninsula in early August 1915. The 10th (Irish) Division was used in this attack. These were the men both Kitchener and John Redmond had encouraged to enlist. These were the civilian volunteer soldiers.
‘Pals’ battalions: “As previously mentioned, Pals battalions were set up from groups of men who for example were from a football club, a factory or a town. They were bank clerks, insurance officials and salesmen. In Dublin, the Dublin Fusiliers set up their own Pals unit which was ‘D’ Company of the 7th Dublin Fusiliers who fought at Suvla Bay in August 1915. Rugby footballers from the various Dublin Clubs enlisted as a Pals unit. In September 1914, they assembled in Lansdowne Road and paraded through the streets of Dublin on their way to the Curragh for training. The President of the IRFU in August 1914, was Mr. F. Browning. He encouraged Rugby footballers to enlist. At the outbreak of the Easter Rising, Browning was killed by Irish Volunteers near Beggars Bush Barracks He was leading a group of what were called ‘gorgeous wrecks’, a group of elderly British ex-Servicemen, hence the name ‘gorgeous wrecks’ who went off on route marches at the weekend. They were coming back to Beggars Bush barrack when they got caught up in the rebellion near Mount St.
Ernest Julian: “Amongst their ranks was Ernest Julian, the Reid Professor of Criminal Law at Trinity College. He was from Birr, Co. Offaly. In 1998, when the Royal Dublin Fusiliers Association opened our first exhibition in Dublin’s Civic Museum, we presented President McAleese with a photograph of Ernest Julian. She knew all about Julian. Her predecessor, President Mary Robinson, was also Reid Professor of Criminal Law. Today Ivana Bacik currently holds the Chair. Sadly, Ernest Julian was killed as he landed at Suvla Bay with the 7th Dublins in August 1915. His body was never found.
Stanton family: “Examples of Dublin Fusiliers who came from the tenements of inner Dublin or from poor rural farming stock around Ireland have been given. Men – and indeed women – at the other end of the social spectrum came forward too and enlisted. One example of the latter was the Stanton family from Cork. Mr John Stanton ran a family law firm in Cork. The boys went to CBC and the girls to private ‘finishing schools’ in Cork and in England.
“Bob Stanton had graduated with an Honours degree in Law at Trinity College Dublin. He was the eldest in the family and when he graduated he went back to the family practice in Cork. He fell in love with a postmistress and wanted to marry her. His father forbade the marriage as he believed there was a history of TB in her family. In disgust, Bob left the law firm and went to Dublin where he enlisted into the 6th Battalion Dublin Fusiliers. Bob was killed at Suvla Bay. His brother, George Stanton, a medical graduate from Trinity College, also enlisted. He joined the Royal Army Medical Corps, went to France, was wounded on the first day of the Somme and sent back to England to recover. Sadly he died soon after surgery. His father and mother wanted his body brought home to Cork and the War office sent the family a bill to bring his body home to Cork. Tom Stanton joined up with the Royal Engineers, he was a Trinity engineering graduate and fought in Egypt. Luckily he survived the war.
Women – the ‘Roses of No Man’s Land’: “Alice Stanton enlisted as a VAD, Voluntary Aide Detachment, a volunteer medical assistant. She served as a VAD at a hospital in Arras. These VADs were, in my opinion, wonderful people. The VADs were mainly young women. These women of Ireland were once called the ‘Roses of No Man’s Land’. I cannot say enough about the Irish women who helped these men on the Western Front. They were incredible people. One of them, whom you all know was Mother Mary Martin. She came from the family of the well-known Dublin Builders providers, T and C Martins. Mary Martin volunteered as a VAD nurse in Gallipoli. Her two brothers enlisted as well. One enlisted in the Connaught Rangers and he was killed in Salonica, the other enlisted into the Dublin Fusiliers. Mary went to Malta and helped the wounded from the Gallipoli campaign.
When she came back to Ireland, she set up the Medical Missionaries of Mary and the hospital in Drogheda. She probably never would have set up the Medical Missionaries of Mary had she not gone to Gallipoli and witnessed the appalling suffering.
Stantons: “The rest of the Stanton family got on with their lives. The father died in 1919. Every father, every human being has a breaking point with grief.
Irish casualties in Gallipoli: “The Allies withdrew in January 1916. Kitchener came to visit the peninsula and believed the best solution to the stalemate that had developed was to simply get out. And what a price was paid for achieving a stalemate. There was young Joseph Berrils, he was fifteen years of age, from Drogheda. The three Donovan brothers from the parish of St.Anne’s in Cork lie together in Gallipoli. So too do the two Mallaghan brothers from Newry. In total 3, 411 were killed from the 10th (Irish) Division of which 830 were Dublin Fusiliers.
Salonica: “After Gallipoli, the 10th (Irish) Division went to Salonica. They went from the desert conditions of Gallipoli up to blizzard conditions of Macedonia. They remained there for several months through the winter and into the summer of 1916. Their main enemy was the dreadful swarms of mosquitoes and consequent malaria. Salonica marked the end of the 10th(Irish) Division. There is a Celtic Cross put up in Salonica similar to the one put up in Guillemont in France to commemorate the 16th(Irish) Division’s roll in the battle of the Somme, 1916. A couple of years ago, members of the Irish Defence Forces on UN service in Kosovo cleaned up the base of the cross.
Easter Rising – attitudes of Irish soldiers in France: “The first casualty of the rising was a Dublin Fusilier as he was killed in Westmoreland St. at 12.30 am on Easter Monday morning. He was in his uniform; he was shot and died in Mercer’s Hospital. There were about twelve Dublin Fusiliers killed in the Rising in Dublin. In terms of the Irish men fighting in France with the Royal Dublin Fusiliers and other Irish regiments of the British army, one of the more interesting questions was what was their attitude to the Rising in Dublin? By far their main feeling was one of disappointment. That disappointment ranged from sheer anger to indifference.
“There is a wonderful series of letters written by Dublin Fusiliers after the Easter Rising contained in the archive in the Royal Dublin Fusiliers Archive called the Monica Roberts collection in the Dublin City Archives. Many of these letters express the real sentiments some of the Dublin Fusiliers felt towards the rebels and ‘Sinn Feiners’ as they called them. Some of the Dublins believed the rebels should be shot, and as we now know, they were. In my opinion, I think the Easter Rising were the first shots in the Civil War in this country. 2nd Lieut. (later Captain) Richard (Dick) Burke served with the 3rd Battalion, Royal Irish Regiment who fought the Irish Volunteers in Moore Street. Dick was born in Dingle, Co. Kerry. His father was the manager of the National Bank in Dingle, he studied in St. Vincent’s College in Castleknock and worked with his father in the bank when the family moved to Kilrush. Dick enlisted in 1914 for a bit of adventure. He was delighted to think that his regiment had taken Moore St…..The interesting thing about the Easter Rising is that many of the Irish regiments, in the initial stages of it, took part in putting down the Easter Rising. The 10th Royal Dublin Fusiliers, who were training in Dublin at the Royal (Collins) Barracks fought the Irish Volunteers at the Mendicity Building and in fact arrested Seán Heuston.
National Volunteers: “The Easter Rising was a source of disappointment to the Irish soldiers in France, it’s well documented. The question is why? By 1916, approximately 24,000 National Volunteers had joined the British Army. These were nationalists, these were the men who supported John Redmond, to have a Home Rule Parliament. They, i.e. the National Volunteers who had enlisted, felt stabbed in the back.
Eugene Sheehy: “Just to conclude on the Easter Rising and the Irish regiments. Eugene Sheehy, was an officer in the 4th Dublins. His sister Mary Sheehy married Tom Kettle who was killed in the war in September 1916 fighting with the Dublins at Guillemont. Sheehy’s other sister, Hannah Sheehy, married Francis Skeffington. Eugene wrote about the Easter Rising [in 1951].
‘The Rising in Easter Week was a source of heartbreak to me and to the many tens of thousands of Irish nationalists who joined the British Army. We had done so at the request of our leaders who were the elected representatives of the people, and the vast majority of the nation applauded our action. The Rising was not even approved by the leaders of Sinn Fein.’
German posters: “The Germans knew all about the rising in Dublin. They put up a poster in front of the Munster Fusiliers which read “Irishmen! Heavy uproar in Ireland, English guns are firing on your wives and children.’
Irish Casualties in France in Easter Week: “During Easter Week the Germans launched another gas attack at a place called Hulloch. It is near Lens in northern France. John Redmond made a statement about this in the House of Parliament, describing the tragedy of Dubliners killing each other and Dubliners dying in France. There were six Louth men killed during that gas attack on 27 April 1916. It was the first major casualties suffered by the 16th (Irish) Division since they arrived in France back in December 1915.
Somme: “From a strategic perspective, the Somme was a failure. The tragic loss of life from the ranks of the 36th (Ulster) Division (5,500) should never be forgotten. These were our fellow Irishmen. Beside the Ulster Division was the 29th Division who had come from Gallipoli, which contained the 1st Battalion Dublin Fusiliers. There were men from the inner city of Dublin who died beside Ulstermen from Belfast’s Shankill Road. There were 19, 640 men killed in one day, 60,000 injured. The only positive to come out of the Battle of the Somme was the huge advancement up the learning curve of the British Army. But at the learning came at a terrible price in human lives.
Executions: “Pte Albert Rickman of the 1st Royal Dublin Fusiliers went missing on 1 July, the day his battalion attacked the Hawthorn Ridge. He was picked up a few weeks later and shot at dawn, in September 1916. If there wasn’t enough bloody killing going on! This poor fellow had to be shot for some obscure reason best known to those who condemned them. He was an Englishman, the son of a peasant farmer from Hampshire.
Tom Kettle, MP. “Tom Kettle was an Irish nationalist born in Artane, on the north side of Dublin. He was devoted to his men and he passionately believed that the cause he was fighting for was just and honourable. On 9 September 1916, he was killed when his 9th Dublins attacked Ginchy during the Somme campaign. He was a barrister, Member of Parliament and Professor of National Economics at UCD. What a terrible loss this man, and thousands like him, was to Ireland.
Meath brothers: “On the same day that Tom kettle was killed, there were two brothers from Curraha, Co. Meath, John and Christopher Mitchell, killed.
Sgt Bob Downie, VC: “Sgt. Bob Downie created a bit of regimental history with the Dublin Fusiliers, he won a Victoria Cross during the later campaigns in the Battle of the Somme. He took out a German machine gun post killing some and taking prisoners. As he ran at the guns he screamed in his broad Glaswegian accent, ‘Come on the Dubs.’ Downie was a Scot from Springburn in Glasgow. In fact one could call him an Irish Scot – his father came from Donegal to pick potatoes at the turn of the century. He was a very quiet man. When he came home to Glasgow to receive his VC from the King, he got a hero’s welcome. He was a member of the United Irishmen and they came out and presented him with a silver coin. He was an ardent Glasgow Celtic supporter. At the end of the war he was outside Celtic Park (Parkhead) queuing in the Veterans and Unemployed queue. The manager of Celtic recognised Downie in the queue and he asked him. ‘What are you doing? You won the Victoria Cross, why are you here?’ Downie replied. ‘Well, I am an unemployed veteran’. So the Celtic manager gave him a job as a grounds man in Celtic Park. He worked at Parkhead for the rest of his life. Bob Downie VC died in 1968. He lived long enough to see his beloved Celtic win the European Cup in 1967.
Paschendaele and after (1917): “The Third Battle of Ieper or Passchendaele which began in July 1917 with great hopes of a breakout from the stalemate in Flanders, ended in November 1917 at the village of Passchendaele. Its ending also marked the end of the volunteer battalions of many of the Irish regiments who went to France with the 16th (Irish) and 36th (Ulster) Divisions. They simply no longer existed. Their regular battalion regrouped and courageously survived the German offensive of March 1918 to go on to victory in 1918. The Redmondite volunteers, those that were left alive, returned to an Ireland, that had utterly changed. Redmond’s brand of Irish nationalism had died at Hulluch, Gallipoli, Salonika, the Somme, Wijtschate (Messines) and at Passchendaele. New heroes had been born in Ireland since they had left. In the years that followed, like the men themselves, their memory and place in Irish history died with them.
‘Remembered at last’: Stephen Gwynn was an officer in the Connaught Rangers and an MP of the Irish Nationalist Party. In thinking what lay ahead of these Irish veterans of the First World War, he hoped that one day in the future, Ireland would welcome these men home. And we did.
‘It may be, O Comrade, that Ireland, casting a backward glance on the road she has travelled, will turn and yearn in her heart for the valour she once rejected. ….Will cry to her own sick heart: ‘My faithful, my children, my lovers who never hurt me – you also are Ireland.’
“Go raibh mile mhaith agaibh”
QUESTIONS AND COMMENTS [Summary of main points]
Cathal MacCoille: “Thank you very much Tom. The floor is open, there are a host of questions there ….”
Q. 1. John Gavin (Vice-President of Meath Archaeological and Historical Society).
“It’s not really a question. I’m going to relate a short little story told by my mother. Along with her many school friends during the 1913 and 1914 period in Dublin, she was a Dublin girl, they used to go in the evening time to see the soldiers boarding the ships at the North Wall, and she used to relate a very interesting or neutral story. This evening there was this woman screeching up at her husband – he was on the deck of the ship – and she says ‘Goodbye Mickey, and I hope you beat the Germans the way you used to beat me!’ That’s only one of the stories.”
Q. 2 Michael Dowdall (Dundalk, Guild of Uriel): ‘I also have a story. A long time ago I lived in Dublin, and I lived with a … Private John McCormack, and he enlisted, and he used to say to me that he ended up in [a regiment] in Kent, and he was sent out to Gallipoli. And he said to me when they landed off the boats, when they jumped into the water there was barbed wire under the water and a shot rang out …and his best friend dropped dead beside him. And he ran up onto the beach, and he said the Turk, whoever the Turk was, saw him …… Anyway, he got malaria from the Dardanelles, and he survived the war and went to America for nearly forty years. But in 1968 when I met him he used to have bouts of malaria, and he would roar and scream and all sorts of problems, and his dear wife … would get the doctor and he would give quinine and he would calm down. And I happened to know someone working in the Department of Social Welfare in Merrion Square and we decided that maybe after all this time – because after the war when he was demobbed he went to America straight. He said the queue was too long to look for money, it was ‘a mile and a half long sonny and I wasn’t going to wait’. But we put in a claim in 1968 for compensation for war wounds and malaria, and the British Department assessed him and awarded him a lump sum of £280 for wounds and problems received fifty odd years previous. They didn’t really forget him.”
Q. 3. Patrick Lynch (Batterstown): “So far we’ve dealt with the human side of the story… There’s another side to the story which was that the British authorities at the time who knew that these young men like Mr Birrell were under-age and the Parliamentary Papers will show that they deliberately turned a blind eye, because there was a military necessity to have large numbers because technology had moved on from previous times and they needed this mass attack, this total war. They thought they were coming home for Christmas and they went out, as we would go to a rock concert or the World Cup, so the premise on which they went in was for smaller nations and someone else had a larger strategy and these were only small observers…..Maybe something should be said about that?”
Tom Burke: “…… There were people under age and indeed over age, if you look at the death casualties … but there is no doubt, and a certain time in the war when things were looking bad, they would have taken anybody. The age of recruitment was 18. So certainly that was overlooked in some cases.….
Member of the audience: “There was a young boy from Waterford who was 14.”
Tom Burke: “Yes, John Condon was 14, but there were plenty of John Condons’ killed in that terrible war…”
Patrick: “We also need to put on record that there were Chinese prisoners being forced and they were executed at the end, that it wasn’t just this glorious war…
Tom Burke: “War is not glorious, there is nothing glorious about war. I would like to find out what was the source of the Chinese being executed. ”
Patrick: “I’m saying that these young people did not know what they were getting themselves into and that woke them up, and it gave rise to a totally different perspective in Ireland and in Europe.”
Q.4. John Clancy (Batterstown): “Just a point, each generation that has the onus of going to war also goes through the same process as you put it, about discovering the reality and brutality of war. But I would like to go to that photograph there [Islandbridge War Memorial] and I would just like confirmation of the figures from Tom. That place is very near my work, and I walk there nearly every day, it’s a wonderful place if you ever get a chance to go… But on this circular space with the cross in the middle, it’s in memory of the 49,400 Irishmen that gave their lives in the Great War. And I think that’s something to ponder in terms of Irishmen on this island. And we’re part of that great tragedy that was the First World War that was the making of another war. Could you just confirm that that is the casualty figure, and what was the proportion between what we would describe as Ulster and the rest of the country in terms of casualties? …..”
Tom Burke: “…When the German bullets flew, they never distinguished between a Catholic and a Protestant, and I’m not going to either.”
John: “Hear hear.”
Tom Burke: “I do not get into the debate about how many Catholics versus how many Protestants were killed. When you give a statistic, it can be twisted into whatever agenda you like. These people were human beings, and I’ll leave it at that. As to the 49,000, yes, you can debate that. There have been several studies done. What you have to remember is that a lot of Irishmen served in British regiments other than Irish regiments. For example, take the Dublin Fusiliers: 28% of the Dublin Fusiliers who were killed were not Irish. There’s a paper I had published in the Irish Sword which breaks it down… but again, I go back to my old story. When the bullets flew, they didn’t distinguish. And I don’t intend to get into the argument of Protestant versus Catholic casualties. The most common number of Irish casualties regularly quoted is around the 32,000 mark.”
Q. 5. Ruth Lawler (Clonmellon): “What you said about the Irish who died in the First World War, you excluded the ones who fought in the Australian Army. You did mention New Zealand, but the ANZACs were Australian and New Zealand, and a good majority of them were Irish as well.
Tom Burke: ‘…. At Messines, when [William] Redmond was killed at Messines on the 7th June, 1917, there was a Book of Condolences opened up by General Hickie and the 5th or 6th name in it was a Private P. Ryan, VC. AIF. He was in the Australian Infantry. I looked him up in the lists of VCs and he was born in Tipperary. He went out to Australia, he worked on the railways and enlisted, came to Flander with the Australians and won the VC. He was a stretcher bearer and repeatedly pulled men in from No Man’s Land under heavy fire.”
Ruth: “There is a black and white film from years back which mentions 8 Irish VCs for Australia……….”
Q. 6. “Paul mentioned that when Redmond came back from London he stayed in the country lodge in Co. Wicklow. A lot of critics of Redmond say he was a recluse there. But I believe there was a railway station near there. Redmond was not a recluse, he could easily go to any part of the country from there.”
Paul Bew: “I’m following Stephen Gwynn who was very pro-Redmond. ….indeed he made a number of speeches around the country and I have quoted from one, but Gwynn, who is very pro-Redmond, goes out of his way to say that actually perhaps he just was too much into the private world he was comfortable with … and that was why all these guys, these fellows of 1916 like Connolly and Pearse, they really were for Redmond very serious weirdos… Redmond was convinced that Casement deserved to be executed – nothing to do with the Black Diaries, but because of his attempt to get those people to desert. … There was a whole kind of hubbub going on, a kind of cultural change on the island and so on that I think it is fair to say he was not sensitive to. That is different from saying he had lost out… because I think there is no question that he still remained the popular elected leader of Irish nationalism. The Sheehy family, Edward Sheehy was a Redmondite MP, this is the same family as David Sheehy and also the same family as Conor Cruise O’Brien… a major nationalist family, and would have a very strong sense of the strength of the democratic tradition of Irish nationalism.
Darkening of the heart – unleashing of demons: “What I am trying to say about this is that if you say, as Redmond did, ‘look, that’s it, we’re calling it quits … we can’t forgive but we’ll try and forget, we’ll put this behind us’, the point is that once you say ‘no no, sorry, it’s not the way I see it, I’m still angry, we’ve still got things to work out, the grievances of history are still sufficiently so great that I will go out into the streets and I will shoot RIC and other men …,’ once you do it, it’s a darkening of the heart, there’s no way to avoid it. You might say ‘Ireland is wonderful today … the Irish Army will be marching down O’Connell St.’ and so on. All that is true but it involves a darkening of the heart, the refusal to say ‘we’ve got to reach some compromise, we’ve got a step that we can work with, you just can’t go unleash demons.’ I think it avoids the fact that what happened in 1916 is an unleashing of demons, and some of those demons are actually still with us.
Modern Ireland – new discourse: “At the same time we are actually uncomfortable with the demons. So that even now … one of the things which is very interesting, if you listen to the Taoiseach for example, there is almost an equivalence of both sets of honest men now, in the official discourse of modern Ireland. And it’s very interesting… Certainly there is now no sense that somehow or other Germany was right in the First World War, still less in the Second. Widely held views by radical Irish nationalists in both cases….. To the men of 1916 they were the ‘gallant allies’. Now I’m not making a judgment about Germany, I’m just saying that nobody actually today talks about the ‘gallant allies’… But those people who made 1916, they meant that, they actually meant that. Again, it’s disappeared… It’s very interesting the new patriotism that is going on, and there is a reason….. And this is something Stephen Gwynn says. In the middle of the 1930s he says something like this.
‘They know in Russia, they know in Slovakia, and we know in Ireland, what it is to live in a country where there’s been a successful revolution motivated by hatred.’
“For a nationalist MP to write that: ‘they know what we know’ – that actually people are not comfortable with that. And that is why, at this point in the history of modern Ireland, people want to move away from it, that is why the Foreign Minister was saying ‘we cannot have two histories always in opposition.’
“This is actually a very very positive thing, that when people stare grimly into it, they want to move away from it, they want to say ‘there were both sets of brave men in 1916’ and so on. And it tells you something about what is actually going on, and a mutation of consciousness which is occurring in modern Ireland, which is actually very interesting and in my view a very positive mutation of consciousness. So what Gwynn said is very very striking, and that poem that you read is also very striking, that we know what it is to live in a country, like Slovakia, where there has been a successful revolution motivated by hatred….
Unionism and the British State: “And one final point, about the Somme, sometimes it is forgotten that you could hear the battle in Kent, you could actually hear it. So you get a relationship between the Ulster Unionists and the British State. …A leading writer in the early 1920s… comes and makes a speech in Belfast and says: ‘I will never forget, sitting in my garden in Kent, when the wind was blowing, the Ulstermen were there defending Kent.’ Now again, that is a relationship between unionism and the British State……. it’s something very very important to understand about the Irish involvement in the war, it changes the relationship between Ulster Unionism and the British State. A lot of people regarded Carson as boring and bigoted in 1912/1914. You could actually hear the Battle of the Somme in Kent, you could hear it, and that changes their relationship and gives them a leverage in the period after the war that they would not have had…”
Q. 7. Robin Bury (Dublin): “Regarding Redmond and 1916. I think I am right in saying .. that Stephen Gwynn said that the leaders of 1916 were really striking against Redmond and his party, as opposed to the British and the British presence in Ireland. Of course they obviously did that. But getting to the actual executions, it is said by quite a lot of people … if Maxwell had not executed the 15 and over a long period of time, very painstaking, that perhaps the 1916 leaders would have been a footnote in history?”
Paul Bew: “Well that was W.T. Cosgrave’s view [tape unclear] …. My own view for a long time, because I dislike simple explanations, and I would look at the land question in the countryside, social issues in Dublin, or the constitutional debates that go on between 1916 and 1917, and the Irish Convention, and I was very reluctant to accept the simple explanation that it was the executions. Having looked at all these things for years and all the other political reasons … I have now come to the explanation that yes, it was the executions, stupid. And, by the way, that was Gwynn’s view as well. That if they had been treated… We talk about it and it was disastrous from the point of view of British policy, the truth is, just looking at James Stephens’s Insurrection at Easter – Stephens has the advantage of being a very good writer who wrote at the moment, at the time, so it’s a particularly important memoir… and Stephens writes on the basis that he expects all [to be executed], his assumption the day after it happens is that there would be hundreds of executions. In fact 15 were executed… but nonetheless… the truth is that when you actually look at it, actual insurrectionaries – very few of them die, if you actually look at it. Lots of other people die, but they themselves are the smallest group of all the casualties. Soldiers die, ordinary Dubliners die … in the Easter Rising, the single smallest category is actually the insurrectionaries themselves, which is about 150 or thereabouts. And also the element of an alliance with Imperial Germany means that it’s not completely surprising that … but it is the executions that changed things, and every account … is the same thing: ‘when we were led away at the end of it, ordinary Dubliners sneered at us. Within a matter of weeks we were heroes.’ That really changed the story.”
Tom Burke: ‘Just one point on the executions. The British military command executed 306 of their own men for crimes that in their view were far less serious. The executions were a military decision. Maxwell was a General. I wonder if it were a political decision, would the executions have been carried out?
Paul Bew: “It was much less than James Stephens expected….”
Q. 8. Jim Nolan (Enniskillen, Guild of Uriel): “I come from north Roscommon originally. … I am very interested in Professor Bew talking about the five by-elections that the Nationalist Party had won. North Roscommon happened to be the first one, the turning point in 1917, which was won by Count Plunkett. And a local clergyman, the curate there, was Fr. O’Flanagan, and I am told by my parents that he used to say every Sunday, ‘why leave the gaiety all to the laity, why can’t the clergy be Irishmen too?’ And just thinking about the organizing of the Volunteers at the time, and the Citizens’ Army, and organizing for the Rising, where would you think the turning point came? … All those people were divided as well, you know MacNeill sent the countermanding order, they had a row in a flat in south Dublin about whether they would have the Rising on that particular day or not. Would you think that the Rising affected the change in the popular vote in 1917?
Paul Bew: “First of all, I think the divisions you are talking about – among those planning the Rising – actually probably disabled the authorities more than it disables the insurrectionaries. … … this organizational division ….was one reason why the British State did not believe that the serious thing was going to be attempted. They were aware of the countermanding orders, and so on. By the way, the UWC strike in 1974, is another example. There had been so many failed loyalist strikes, and cock-ups and imitations, and play-acting, that they didn’t actually expect them to come out, and once it’s bitten you’re too late, ‘oh God, they’re serious this time’. And 1916 is an example. Certainly by the chaos …. chaos has its advantages…
“One of the most important things about Fr. O’Flanagan of course is his deep commitment to what we call the ‘two nations theory’…. On the one hand a radical republican, and vice-President of Sinn Féin in 1917, but on the other hand deeply committed to the fact that any attempt to coerce the unionists would be wrong. He used to say: ‘the British have tried to coerce us for twenty years to give up our nationality, they failed and they deserved to fail. If we try to do this with the Ulster Unionists we will fail too and we will deserve to fail’. Another famous line is ‘a geographical entity is not necessarily a political entity. Spain and Portugal are two political entities but … the Iberian Peninsula is a geographical entity’, and so on. He was deeply committed to the idea that the two peoples in Ireland both had the right to self-determination. He could say that and be vice-President of Sinn Féin and it was not a problem in Roscommon. Which tells you how little the north is at issue in the rise of Sinn Féin. The vice-President of Sinn Fein …. was openly expressing these views throughout 1917, and it didn’t stop them winning in north Roscommon. In fact he was a key figure in them winning, he was very popular, very active on land issues as well.
1918 elections: “So if somebody says to you ‘well, 1918 was the democratic vote of the Irish people that the whole of Ireland – and the unionist North – must be included in an Irish State’, well Sinn Féin was led by somebody who was openly telling Irish people it was not on, it shouldn’t be done, and you shouldn’t do it. It wasn’t a problem. 1918 is not about the North. It’s a vote for the maximum possible political autonomy that could be achieved, even theoretically asking for a Republic, but it is not actually about the North, which is an important thing to understand. So I think that the Rising is important in changing opinions, all the executions, the threat of conscription and remaining land issues – and O’Flanagan is very important … there is going to be a need for the remaining grievance of the land question, and that is part of his significance in this period ……But a very very strong – what is called today a ‘two nations’ man.
Jim: “In a speech … in Co Cavan for Arthur Griffith, he seemed to direct most of his anger at Lloyd George….”
Paul Bew: “Yes, that would be O’Flanagan all right!”
Cathal Mac Coille: “I’m going to allow two more questions…”
Q. 9. James McGeever (Cavan): “The 1916 Proclamation speaks of ‘cherishing all the children of the nation equally’. I wonder does that put an obligation on us to uphold the Proclamation, to sympathetically understand not just the nationalists, but also the aristocracy and the gentry and the ordinary Anglo-Irish Protestants who fought in the Great War, doing – as they saw it – their duty?” …. James Connolly spoke of honouring and praying for all the brave men who did their duty according to their lights.”
Cathal: “I’ll take the two questions together….”
Q. 10. Sean Collins (Drogheda): “Just a couple of pointers. Firstly, to get back to the executions: recent work on the executions tells us that it was a political decision to stop it. Maxwell would have come in and shot all and sundry, as far as he was concerned, but when political pressure was brought to bear, that’s when he stopped, and that’s what the most recent work has told us…..This notion of these men going off to fill regiments to fight for Britain. Surely this was nothing new? There hasn’t been a study done on it as has been done on the Great War, as it was called. But the Great War I would believe was the first time that we really had proper records kept, and the media was opening the world, opening people’s minds. I have a recording of a man who was 90 years of age, relating a story his grandmother told him about how she baked brown bread and put it in two pillowcases and walked down to the Dublin Road in Drogheda to hand it to her sons who were going off to fight in the Crimea, leaving Dundalk Barracks, marching to Dublin to get the boat, never to be heard of again….So the notion of filling British regiments is nothing new.
“On the notion of the Rebels in Dublin betraying them, I was always of the opinion that the bulk of them went for jobs not for any great political ideal, and nearly everybody Tom mentioned tonight he told us how they lost their jobs so they joined the British Army. There’s questions to be asked there.
Respect: “The one thing that would concern me though is this, as a regular attender here for many years and many sessions, I felt the ideal of this organisation [Meath Peace Group] was to get a better understanding of people’s traditions and respect each other’s traditions. I really feel that that’s what peace is all about. And it’s not enough that we have problems with people in the North of Ireland and what their traditions might be, whether they are Orange or Green or Unionist or Nationalist, or Catholic or Protestant, or wherever they might be, but when we are bothered by the emblems that they erect in memory of each other, I really think we are on the road to trouble. We must learn to respect what people’s views are, whether their ancestors were in the GPO, whether they were signing the Ulster Covenant with Carson, or whether they were off fighting in Gallipoli or the Somme or wherever. We will never have the peace that the Meath Peace Group desire until people just respect each other’s traditions, and whether they are remembered on Mount St. Bridge, or not remembered on Mount St. Bridge, I really think that’s irrelevant.”
Tom Burke: “I think it is important that they are remembered – on Mount St. Bridge and in France. Because if you forget … There’s a point to be made about forgetfulness. Perhaps it was good for our own history to lose the memory of these men for eighty years, because now we can look back without an agenda. We can now look back with some kind of humanity, without any blinkers or an agenda. So I do think it is important that we do have some kind of respectful memory and memorials, whether it’s in Flanders or whether it’s in Dublin.
1916 Proclamation: “The second point, this gentleman raised about the Proclamation. …. ‘Our gallant allies in Europe’ and then ‘including all the children of the nation’. Now ‘our gallant allies in Europe’ – half the ‘children of the nation’ were fighting ‘our gallant allies’ in Europe. There’s a slight contradiction there in terms of the philosophy.
Paul Bew: “I very much agree with what you said, but I do think that the change in tone in official Ireland is very marked – it’s actually very very profound in its meaning, and it’s to do with an attempt to move away from traditional meanings……and by the way, lest I be misunderstood, it’s as much to do with unionist history as it is of nationalist history. And it’s to do with an attempt to move away, the underlying reason for it was to move away from that story, so what has happened in terms of … commemoration, the attempt to achieve a balance … it is tremendously important that that effort was actually made, to achieve a balance. It tells you something about what is happening in modern Ireland and it is actually a very good thing…”
Q. 11. Joan Leech (Navan): “I would hate not to make the point that Pearse, MacBride, Plunkett, all the signatories – they were not calculating politicians. They were poets, teachers and visionaries. They did what in their consciences they felt they had an opportunity to do. And also, we’re told that Francis Ledwidge, the Meath poet, wrote home to his brother Michael at one stage and said that if the Germans were coming up the path in front of his little house at home, he would not join up again. I’d love Professor Bew to comment on that.”
Paul Bew: “That is a perfectly understandable, perfectly reasonable reaction.”
Cathal MacCoille: “Just one thing …. re the reference to ‘our gallant allies in Europe’. Maybe this is the kind of thing a journalist would say. What kind of allies are gallant allies? Who ever had dodgy allies? Now, to propose the vote of thanks, since it is a meeting held in association with the Meath Archaeological and Historical Society, I’m going to call on one of the Society’s patrons, Dr. Richard Clarke, bishop of Meath and Kildare…”
Vote of thanks. Dr. Richard Clarke, Bishop of Meath and Kildare
(Dr Clarke is a patron of the Meath Archaeological and Historical Society):
“Thank you very much indeed, on behalf of both groups, both the Meath Archaeological and Historical Society and also the Meath Peace Group. I’d like to thank all our speakers tonight, and I’d like to thank Cathal MacCoille for his time-keeping and also for his refereeing. But particularly I want to thank our two speakers because I think they did indeed, in one sense, show us the broad sweep of the ambiguity of what it is to be Irish. The broad sweep of the political ambiguities of 1914-18 and the flesh and blood of people dying, and people who had grown up on the streets of Dublin going out to die elsewhere. And if we can’t treasure that essential ambiguity in what it is to be an Irish person then I think there is very little hope for the future.”
Poetry of the Great War: “There was a mention of Ledwidge just a minute ago. And Julitta, knowing my love of the poetry of the war, asked when I was concluding would I just briefly make a couple of references to the poetry of the Great War because I think here we all come face to face with not only the awfulness but also in a way with somehow whatever it is within people that can face life and death, and hatred and shame.
Francis Ledwidge: “And of course the greatest ambiguity of all is that of Ledwidge, who, as we know, was anti-Redmond and yet a couple of weeks later he volunteers to join the Enniskillen Fusiliers! He comes back in 1916 and writes that beautiful poem about his friend MacDonagh (for which he is best known) and then he goes back to the front, which he needn’t have done.
“He goes back to the war. He could have got away with it, he goes back and he still writes poetry of a remarkable kind.
“But the poem of his that I want to read is actually one written early in the war, in Serbia. We spoke about Gallipoli earlier on, and in Serbia, literally hundreds of people died of frostbite. And he writes somehow a vision of the end of time. He wrote to [Lord] Dunsany and said ‘this is what I imagine it would be like at the end of the Book of Revelation, the end of time’ and he writes in this strange, wistful way, about what has been lost and what is there. It’s the poem ‘When Love and Beauty Wander Away’.
‘When love and beauty wander away
And there’s no more hearts to be sought and won
When the old earth limps through the dreary day
And the work of seasons cry undone
And what shall we do, the song to sing?
You have known beauty and love and Spring
When love and beauty wander away
And a pale fear lies on the cheeks of youth
When there’s no more gold to strive for and pray
And we live at the end of the world’s untruth:
Ah what shall you do for a heart to prove
Who’ve known beauty and Spring and love?
[Francis Ledwidge: ‘When Love and Beauty Wander Away’]
“An extraordinary poem from that amazing ambiguity.”
Charles Sorley: “I’m just going to finish with one short sonnet, from someone you probably won’t know as well as our Meath man Ledwidge. Someone from a totally different background, a person I have enormous interest in. This time it is a Scot, an aristocratic Scot, a cousin of Rab Butler, a man called Charles Sorley who went to an English public school, who died at the age of 20, killed by a sniper at the battle of Loos in 1915. He comes from a pious religious background, and in fact was, in some senses, a religious poet. And the reason I choose to finish with this? We have to ask not only what does the Great War tell us of what it is to be Irish, but also what does the Great War tell us of what it is to be a human being? Because there were two things in the last century – the trenches of the First World War and Auschwitz – and after either of those, you can never look in the same way again not only at what it is to be Irish, but also what it is to be a human being.
“And Charles Sorley was a person of piety, a religious poet who died at the age of 20 and whom Masefield said was actually one of the great losses to poetry. Some of the others could never been anything other than war poets, but probably Sorley would. He dies at the age of twenty. A couple of weeks before he has written some beautiful religious poetry, and this is what war does to people, when he can also write like this:
‘When you see millions of the mouthless dead
Across your dreams in pale battalions go,
Say not soft things as other men have said,
That you’ll remember. For you need not so.
Give them not praise. For, deaf, how should they know
It is not curses heaped on each gashed head?
Nor tears. Their blind eyes see not your tears flow.
Nor honour. It is easy to be dead.
Say only this, “They are dead.” Then add thereto,
“Yet many a better one has died before.”
Then, scanning all the o’ercrowded mass, should you
Perceive one face that you loved heretofore,
It is a spook. None wears the face you knew.
Great death has made all his for evermore.
“That poem was found in his rucksack after he died. But to both our speakers, and to you Cathal, thank you very much indeed for what you have given us tonight.”
Closing words: Cathal MacCoille:
“Thank you very much, Dr Clarke. You have summed it up more than eloquently what this has meant to us this evening. … Just a few brief words, to mention that as the Meath Peace Group is not on its home grounds, there is a cup of tea afterwards…. I just want to say that I enjoyed this hugely. I expected to, I hadn’t heard Tom before but I really enjoyed what both have had to tell us and made us think about.
Need to think back into the heads of the people involved: “And I think what made people think…. it’s what one of my history lecturers drummed into me – this was after an essay which contained the phrase in the first paragraph ‘where Bismarck went wrong’ – and I won’t tell you what he said about that, but one of the things he tried to get through to us is in part one of the things about history we have been given here tonight: it’s not about what happened, what we think. It’s first of all, most importantly, and this came shining obviously out of what Tom came through: these people, they weren’t thinking of conscription, they weren’t thinking of the 1916 Rising, they weren’t thinking about what the Great War turned out to be, they weren’t thinking about partition, they weren’t thinking about the War of Independence, Civil War, all that came afterwards – that wasn’t where these people’s heads were at. And you can get a true appreciation of the decisions they made – whether to go, to take part in the First World War, or to stay or to do something else in the line of physical force. The first thing you have got to do is think back into heads of these people, not look out through the prism of where we are now.
Changing Ireland: “The last thing I want to say is to come back to one of the privileges I had. It’s now 13 years since I interviewed about 25 veterans of D-Day throughout Ireland, for the Sunday Tribune where I was working then. And what struck me at the time – this was 13 years ago – what struck me was that at least half of them either didn’t want me to reveal their addresses, or they didn’t want me to reveal their names. That’s just 13 years ago! And I am thinking about one of them who lives about two and a half miles from where I live in Dublin, and I remember realizing after about an hour and a half, when his wife made tea, the conversation was over in business terms, and I suddenly realized that his arm never moved from that position because he had been hit by shrapnel and had torn some muscles in his elbow and as a result his right hand was in the one position all the time. But I was thinking as I was coming up here tonight, this beautiful countryside – you live in a very beautiful place, you’re very lucky to live here – but I was thinking of that man who didn’t want his name or his address mentioned. And that was 1994, a couple of months before the start of the IRA ceasefire, and I was thinking of my young daughter – trying to tell her, that’s just 13 years ago!
We’ve traveled a lot since then, and yet when I try and think how I would describe to her why this man could be so afraid, so scared even of his name in a newspaper, although he was perfectly proud of what he had done, with good reason.
“Although I complimented him, as I complimented many veterans on what they did in that War, and they certainly didn’t feel any less Irish for having taken part in it, but he wanted to keep the head down because of all we know. And then I think of my 18-year old daughter, and I tried to think of what I would say to her, and suddenly I am feeling very very old. And I simply mention that because I think you think about these things, you come to these meetings, and I think you realize what being part of the Meath Peace Group in a changing world, in a changing Ireland. There are challenges for you, there are different things to do, different questions, different things to relate, one of which I think you addressed wonderfully through Paul Bew and through Tom Burke tonight. And I just want to add my thanks to Bishop Clarke for all they have told us tonight. Thank you.”
Professor Paul Bew was educated at Campbell College, Belfast, and Cambridge University where he was awarded a Ph.D. in 1974. He is Professor of Irish Politics at Queen’s University Belfast and has lectured at the Ulster College, the University of Pennsylvania, and Surrey University and was Parnell Fellow at Magdalene College, Cambridge, from 1996-97. Professor Bew was President of the Irish Association for Economic and Cultural Relations in 1990-92 and has been an Executive Member of the British-Irish Association since 1995. He is historical adviser to the Bloody Sunday Tribunal and is the author of numerous publications, articles and reviews including: Sean Lemass and the Making of Modern Ireland (1983), Conflict and Conciliation in Ireland, 1890-1910 (1987), The Dynamics of Irish Politics (1989), The Northern Ireland Peace Process, 1993-96 (1996), John Redmond (1996) and Northern Ireland: A Chronology of the Troubles (revised edition 1999). His article on the role of historians in the Bloody Sunday Tribunal was published in the Journal of Historical Research, and he has also worked on the Ireland volume in the Oxford History of Modern Europe (forthcoming publication). His recent article in History Ireland (March/April 2006) ‘Why Did Jimmie Die?’ gave a critique of official 1916 commemorations.
Tom Burke MBE, is chairman of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers Association which he set up in 1996 to create an awareness in Dublin about the tragic and forgotten history of the Irish men and women who took part in the Great War. The RDFA is mainly a history society and has a current membership of 450 spread throughout the island of Ireland and the UK. Each year they present public lectures and exhibitions relating to Ireland’s role in the Great War. Participation in remembrance services is an important activity of the RDFA. In December 2004, Tom was awarded the MBE for his work on the Great War and his contribution towards reconciliation. He proudly wears the medal alongside his GAA hurling medal. He has published articles on the Royal Dublin Fusiliers in journals such as The Irish Sword – Journal of the Military History Society of Ireland; Studies – Journal of the Jesuit Society of Ireland ; Stand To -Journal of the Western Front Association ; Dublin Historical Record – Journal of the Old Dublin Society. He is currently researching a book on the 16th (Irish) Division and 36th (Ulster) Division at the Battle of Wijtschate and Messines, June 1917. Tom works as an Engineer, which often gets in the way of the real work which is researching the Dubs.
Dr. Richard Clarke, Church of Ireland Bishop of Meath and Kildare, has an academic background in modern Irish history and the relationship between literature and theology. Dr Clarke has a particular interest in both the history and the poetry of the Great War and has visited most of the battle fields of the western front in the last 20 years. In a book published a few years ago, And Is it true?, he related some of the poetry of the First World War to questions of God’s existence, and present-day religious faith. Along with Bishop Michael Smith and Professor George Eogan, Dr Clarke is a patron of the Meath Archaeological and Historical Society which was founded in 1955.
Cathal MacCoille is well known throughout Ireland as a presenter on RTE Radio One’sMorning Ireland. He is now in his ninth year as a Morning Ireland presenter (his first stint was from 1986 to 1990, and his second since 2001). Cathal has a wide experience in journalism, having been a reporter on RTE’s staff in Belfast from 1978 to 1984, assistant editor of the Sunday Tribune from 1992-1996 and political correspondent with TG4 from 1996 to 2001. In addition, Cathal writes a weekly column on politics for the Irish language paper FOINSE. Awards received include the Jacobs Radio Award (1990) and Oireachtas journalist of the year (2003). Cathal is aged 53 and from Dublin. Two of his four children were born in Dublin, the other two in Bangor, Co Down. His pastimes are: cycling, swimming, hurling, history and France.
Meath Peace Group report 2006
Taped by Judith Hamill (audio) and Jim Kealy (video).
Transcribed and edited by Julitta Clancy
©Meath Peace Group.