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The Irish Soldiers in WWI
by Bridget Haggerty

My dad fought in Africa during WWI. I know very little of his experience as he preferred not to talk about it. What I do know is that he lied about his age in order to enlist, that his boots rotted off his feet in the trenches and that he contracted malaria - a condition which was to afflict him for the rest of his life.

It's possible that he was reluctant to discuss his role as an Irish soldier in the British army because he was from Galway and on his return home, he may have been treated as a traitor. In my own time, I remember how returning vets who fought in Vietnam were vilified by protesters. In any event, I'll never know how my father fared, but it's interesting to note that just a few years after the war, he left Ireland and never went back.

Here are the facts about the Irish soldiers of WWI. More than 35,000 of them perished. Of the thousands who survived and came home, they found a country in violent upheaval, fiercely fighting its own great conflict - a civil war between those who supported the Anglo Irish Treaty and those who didn't.

Many of the soldiers were victimized either physically or economically. Between 1919 and 1922, at least 200 were murdered because they had joined the British army. Economically, the 1919 unemployment ratio of ex-servicemen was 46% in Ireland compared to just 10% in Britain.

In 1919, a trust was founded to fund a permanent memorial to all the Irishmen who had fallen. Some nationalists opposed a number of proposals and an early plan to locate a memorial in Merrion Square failed. The present War Memorial Gardens in Dublin was completed under a de Valera administration in 1936.

The War Memorial Gardens are located on the southern slopes of the Liffey River, opposite the Magazine Fort in Phoenix Park. Designed by Sir Edward Lutyens, the gardens were built by a workforce made up of ex-servicemen from both the British and Irish armies. The Memorial is part of a larger, 150-acre park between Islandbridge and Chapelizod.

The committee which proposed building a memorial and established the Irish National War Memorial Trust fund to cover the cost, also erected memorials to the Irish soldiers at battlefields in France and Flanders. An eight-volume directory of the names and services of every Irish officer and soldier killed in the Great War was also published. Copies of these records are kept in the book-rooms at the National War Memorial.

In the early days after the war, many communities erected memorials to honor those who had been killed. During the early twenties, thousands of people would gather at various centers around the country, such as College Green in Dublin where the Ginchy Cross was temporarily erected each year as an Irish Cenotaph. A two minute silence was observed at 11am. According to 'The Irish Times, "120,00 people attended the College Green commemoration in 1925."

On the Sunday prior to Remembrance Day, veterans gathered to parade to a requiem mass and a service at both Dublin cathedrals - Catholic and Protestant. These religious services were attended by the Lord Mayor of Dublin and Foreign Ministers accredited to the Irish Free State. Representatives of the Free State government attended official commemorations in both Dublin and London and in 1938, a Fianna Fáil government sent a wreath of orange flowers and white lilies to the London Cenotaph, "in memory of the brave."

The singing of the British national anthem and the display of the Union Jack at these events caused a great deal of distress to participants; Imperialists exploited the occasion as much as extreme Nationalists. Over the years, in the Irish consciousness, the poppy and Remembrance Day have become associated less with respect for those who died in war and wrongly confused with a statement of political allegiance.

The Flanders Poppy was first described as the 'flower of remembrance' by Canadian Col. John McCrae, who served as gunner in the South African War and at the outbreak of the First World War. At the second battle of Ypres in 1915, he was in charge of a small first-aid post; during a lull in the action, he pencilled a poem on a page torn from his dispatch book.

In Flanders' field the
poppies blow
Between the crosses,
row on row
That mark our place;
and in the sky
The larks, still bravely
singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the
guns below.

We are the dead. Short
days ago
We lived, felt dawn,
saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved,
and now we lie in
Flanders Fields.

Take up quarrel
with the foe;
To you from failing
hands we throw
The torch; be yours to
hold high,
If ye break faith with us
Who die
We shall not sleep,
though poppies
grow
In Flanders Field.

The Armistice at the end of WWI was signed on November 11th at precisely 11 am - the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. Since then, those who paid the ultimate sacrifice are honored every year, on November 11th.

The poppy was adopted as the symbol of remembrance because it was so widespread on the sites of the battlefields in Europe. The seeds of the common field poppy germinate best in newly-cultivated soil. The soil disturbances caused by trench-digging and shellfire produced ideal conditions for poppy growth and they appeared in vast numbers bringing a delicate beauty to areas which had seen such terrible scenes only a short while before.

Field Marshal Earl Haig, commander of the allied forces on the Western Front, founded the Haig Fund to assist ex-servicemen disabled during WWI. This fund is now administered by the Royal British Legion and supports ex-servicemen and their dependents. The Poppy Appeal continues to raise funds for this cause by selling small paper or fabric poppies, which are worn in November by many people in Ireland and the British Isles to signify their support and as a memorial to the victims of all wars.

Recent years have seen the reintroduction of the two minutes' silence on November 11th. At precisely eleven o'clock, people throughout the world come to a standstill as the two minutes silence is observed. Although this is purely voluntary and a matter for the individual's conscience, there has been widespread public support.

As for the role of the Irish soldiers, it was gradually played down by the Republic who wanted to distance Ireland from Great Britain, and by others who preferred not to dwell on the contribution the Irish had made to the war.

Recently, some commentators and historians have begun to examine and evaluate the Irish soldiers' participation. Some attention is now being given to the sacrifice of the 35,500 Irish soldiers who died, the suffering of the 200,000 who watched their comrades perish and the grief of the loved ones who mourned for so many lives lost or ruined.

This article first appeared in honor of Veteran's Day last November. It is this author's hope that on this Memorial Day in the USA, we will once again proudly remember all of our fallen heroes, especially those who gave their lives in WWI. He wasn't killed on the battlefield, but you can be certain that I will be cherishing the memory of a Galway-born dad who willingly set aside internal politics in order to fight for a much greater cause.

Note: (Veteran's Day, 2002)
Veteran of Great War dies at 102

Ireland's last first World War veteran, Mr Thomas Shaw, has died aged 102. Mr Shaw, from Belfast, joined the 16th battalion of the Royal Irish Rifles in 1916. He died on Saturday, March 2nd, 2002 and was buried on Thursday, March 7th at Clandeboye Cemetery in Bangor, Co Down. He first enlisted as a rifleman at 15 but was sent home after his brother, a military policeman, met him accidentally while in France. Mr Shaw again joined up as the Battle of the Somme ended.He was sent to France and fought at Messines, Ypres, and Passchendaele. He returned to Ireland in April 1919. Mr Sam Girvan, the manager of the Clanmill Housing Association, which runs the accommodation block where Mr Shaw lived, said he didn't like a fuss being made about his years of service. Source: The Irish Times.

Interesting Fact: Did you know that Ireland has produced more Medal of Honor recipients than any other country? To learn more about those who were awarded the highest honor the USA can bestow, please click here: The Wild Geese

Image"Poppy Field, Languedoc" published by kind permission of the artist, Mary Gregg Byrne. To see Mary's internet gallery, please click here: Changing Light Artworks

 

Sat, Apr 12, 2014


The Easter Lily Pin

Symbolic of the emergence and resurrection of a free Ireland, Cumann na mBan (the League of Women) led by Constance Markievicz, popularized the wearing of the Easter Lily pin in 1926 in remembrance for those who gave their lives for the cause of Irish independence during the 1916 Easter Rising. In later years, wearing the pin began to fall out of favor as it became associated more with the IRA than with a symbol of rememberance. However, there is now renewed interest in restoring the wearing of the pin to its original status as a mark of respect and in memory of the many young men and women who died during the rebellion.
If you would like to purchase a Lily Pin, please click Sinn Fein .

Click for More Culture Corner.




This unconventional perspective helps to shed light on an aspect of Irish nationalism many writers have shamefully and unforgiveably neglected. Writing with passion, the author manifests the exploits of Irishmen and women during the euphemistically renowned "Great War", via the employment of official war sources and contemporary letters from those at the front line. The book sets the scene and the building miasma around some of the war's major conflicts that were to result in serious loss of life borne out of the ineptitude of senior command. In short, it is a lugubrious reflection of the horrors and realities of war, and of the previously "unknown" heroes Ireland can now rightly call its own.
Click here for Irish Voices.



They Shall Not Grow Old
Irish Soldiers Remember the Great War
by Myles Dungan

More than a quarter of a million Irishmen fought in the Great War. The publication in 1996 of Dungan's Irish Voices from the Great War contributed to the awareness of the injustice done to the Irishmen of the 1914-18 War. This companion volume uses the same type of material (letters, diaries, memoirs, personal interviews) to advance that process.
A companion volume to Irish Voices from the Great War, this book complements that anthology of tragedy with further stories of unromanticised life in the trenches, the experience of POWs, and an illuminating and critical look at the role of chaplains.
Danny Morrison, Sunday Tribune.
Click here for They Shall Not Grow Old.



Faces of Irish Civil War Soldiers:
Rare Photographs of Irish Soldiers
Who Fought for the North and South

Edited by Joanna M. McDonald

Thousands of Irishmen lined up at the recruiting stations and served in both the Confederate and Union armies - great names such as O'Rourke, Corcoran, Meagher, McIntosh, McGavock, and Tilghman. Unlike their English neighbors, who, for the most part, assimilated into the Union and Confederate ranks, many Irishmen organized their own, unique units made up of their fellows and included the adjective "Irish" within their regimental names. As their memories disappeared into history, they left their names, their songs and poems, their letters and battle accounts - and their photographs - to remind them of their passing and allow us to walk part of the way with them.
Publisher's Review
Click here for Faces of the Civil War.

 

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