Our War: Ireland & WWI

Eoin Purcell

Cross Posted @ Uncovered History

The New Irish Farm World War One Cemetery
The New Irish Farm World War One Cemetery

National Myths
There are some really sacred cows in Ireland. One of them is that national feeling was firmly behind the radical position demanding a separate government and state. In fact I’d go so far as to suggest the whole strain of moderate nationalism (the strain that was in favour of and very nearly achieved Home Rule or perhaps some form of Dual Monarchy, which in many ways was what was finally achieved after much violence and wasted trauma in 1922) has been ignored by the national conversation and the national psyche.

This is not to suggest that people don’t know about it (although I’d be interested to see how many people knew who John Redmond was), more that we, as a nation, tend to gloss over it.

We ignore the men who served in the RIC and the British Army and felt that they were loyal Irishmen. We ignore the current of opinion that consistently elected not radicals but moderates as our nations representatives in parliament. We decidedly ignore the fact that for much of the 19th Century we were a normal part of metropolitan Britain. We especially ignore the fact that even in the year of Sinn Féin’s breakthrough 1918 election, The Irish Parliamentary Party contested 57 seats to Sinn Féin’s 107 and won around 250,000 votes to their approximately 470,000.

That the party won only 7 seats to Sinn Féin’s 73 is all we remember. We assign a party that won about 21% (almost the same as Unionists) of the national vote to the dust heap and assume that they were a minority for all their existence when the opposite is in fact the truth. The real outlier was the rising of 1916 (a Black Swan event) and event that was rescued only by the excessive reaction of British Forces in executing the leadership (and some no-leaders) of the rising.

Why this is important?
All of this is to set the background for introducing RTÉ & the RIA‘s new history effort: 1918: Ireland & The Great War. It is an exciting development that involves Radio, Television, a Book and an archive exhibition dealing with Ireland’s part in the First World War.

One of the key components is the Thomas Davis Lecture Series, which has often acted as a way of throwing ideas into the national discourse. There is a nice introduction by Lorelei Harris, Editor, Arts, Features & Drama on the Thomas Davis Lecture’s site:

The idea for the project came during the course of a conversation with Professor John Horne of Trinity College Dublin who brought to my mind the number of Irish men who served and died during World War I. It seemed to me appropriate that we should mark this major contribution by Irish soldiers on the 90th anniversary of Armistice and from that point the project started to evolve.
I hope that you will enjoy listening and that the programmes will reveal to you, as they have to me, the significance of Ireland’s participation in the Great War

The book also looks fantastic the equal of RIA’s Judging Dev which stormed the charts last year. I think that this or more really hope that this marks the start of Ireland addressing its REAL history as it matures into a more assured member of the club of nations.

The role of Irishmen and women in World War One is so often downplayed and forgotten as I mentioned above. It is a shame because despite any misgivings there might be now about the war itself or about the justification for war in general, those who fought and died did so bravely and with a certainty that what they did was right.

Uncovered History can only welcome such revisiting of our national history and breaking down of myth and illusion!

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