Dr Niamh Gallagher, University Associate Professor in Modern British and Irish History at the Faculty of History, St Catharine’s College, University of Cambridge and Professor Richard Grayson, Professor of Twentieth Century History, Head of History at Goldsmiths, University of London discuss Niamh’s recent book Ireland and the Great War.
This is a a new social and political history of Ireland during the First World War.
It considers why following the outbreak of European hostilities, large sections of Irish Protestants and Catholics rallied to support the British and Allied war efforts but less than two years later the Easter Rising of 1916 allegedly put a stop to the Catholic commitment in exchange for a re-emphasis on the national question.
Niamh Gallagher's book is published by CUP.
Tom Thorpe [00:00:17] Welcome to Mentioned in Dispatches. The podcast from the Western Front Association with me, Dr. Tom Thorpe. The WFA is the UK's largest great war history group. We are dedicated to furthering understanding of the Great War and they have around 60 branches worldwide. For more information, visit our website at Western Front Association dot com.
Tom Thorpe [00:00:38] It is the 3rd of October 2022 and this is Episode 272. On today's Dispatches podcast. Dr. Niamh Gallagher, a university associate professor in modern British and Irish history at St Catherine's College at the University of Cambridge, talks to Professor Richard Grayson, professor of 20th Century History at Goldsmiths College, the University of London, about Niamh's recent book 'Ireland and the Great War'. This book is a new social and political history of Ireland during the First World War and is published by Cambridge University Press. They both spoke to me over the interweb from their respective offices in Cambridge and Hemel Hempstead.
Tom Thorpe [00:01:20] Richard and Niamh, welcome to the Dispatches podcast. Today we're going to take a slightly different format and Richard is going to interview me. This ... format was used at the launch of Niamh's book, I think at the Irish Embassy earlier this year.
Tom Thorpe [00:01:37] And so we thought it was a really ... good way of ... maybe just changing the format slightly so you actually get some more fresh voices rather than me wittering on again. So on that bombshell, I'll hand over to you, Richard.
Richard Grayson [00:01:50] Thank you very much, Tom.
Richard Grayson [00:01:52] Niamh, I'm always interested when an historian writes a book as to why they did it; what's led them down this path. And I wondered if you could just tell us a bit about how you got to write 'Ireland and the Great War, a Social and Political History'.
Niamh Gallagher [00:02:15] Yeah, sure, Richard ... and Tom, I just want to say thank you very much for inviting me on this podcast. It's really fun to talk to you both today.
So I became interested in this project in a different way to most people. I didn't have any family background in the First World War. In fact, the First World War was really so far away from my memory: individual, familial, community, national - that it was a real foreign topic in some respects. But I knew that the First World War happened and there had been books written on Ireland in the First World War. So Ireland indeed must have a history of sorts.
Niamh Gallagher [00:02:52] I began by having a look at a pilot - I did a pilot study, which was effectively a kind of tester, as a - jargony term maybe that historians use where you go off and you look at a piece of evidence over a series of whatever parameters you put on it - and just see what you find. And I came across a reference in the book to a an interesting phenomenon whereby Catholics and Protestants who in Ireland had a long divided history, are at least painted that way by historians - seem to be cooperating in aid of the First world War in a tiny little place in County Cavan, which is in the southern bit of Ulster.
Niamh Gallagher [00:03:33] So I looked in one of the local newspapers and conducted this pilot study over the series of ... a handful of months, just to see who is in this organisation and what they did. The organisation was a County Cavan Women's Patriotic Association. It comprised, I'd say, you know, fairly middle class Catholic and Protestant women, i.e. those who are the wives and the kind of main shapers in the town. So they'd really be known - and they were cooperating in aid of the war effort by getting comforts together, by issuing voluntary appeals, doing some fundraising, etc ... And I thought this is very striking because this was in Cavan, a place that had no historiography had actually written on it - and that means historical works written on it in relation to the war. And I wanted to broaden this picture to see to what extent did Catholics and Protestants, groups who seem to be so divided in Irish history, at least in the way that historians paint them, and indeed, of course, of some reality when it comes to Northern Ireland. And in that respect ... to what extent did these groups cooperate in aid of the First World War? And that's how the project began, Richard.
Niamh Gallagher [00:04:44] And I expanded its I find similar levels of cooperation in many parts of the country, even including in what is today Northern Ireland, which went against the very sectarian thesis, i.e. the Catholic Nationalists, i.e. Catholics who wanted the measure of independence from Ireland or indeed Protestant Unionists - those who wanted no change in the constitutional relationship - actually were able to cooperate during the First World War, despite some of the better known events that happened during that period, such as these Easter Rising, which I'm sure we'll come on to talk about. And indeed, then ... the various parliamentary changes, political changes whereby Sinn Féin, who are a Republican Party, win the first general election in 1918, setting Ireland on the path to independence from Britain ... and indeed the resulting settlement that happens in that period which is partition.
Richard Grayson [00:05:34] Thank you, as I say, it's really interesting. I just think to hear how people can go from sometimes it is a family connection and you've stressed it's not in your case, but how you can go from one relatively small idea, perhaps from student days into something that ... develops into a book. On the book, people always say don't judge a book by its cover, but actually the cover is really important. And if I can just describe it to listeners, it shows the unveiling of the Cork War Memorial in March 1925 - which has an Irish tricolour in the foreground but also draped over the memorial, is a Union Flag. Now, this is a surprising photo for many Irish historians because Cork is the rebel county. And yet here we have in the middle of the 1920s, after a war of independence and the bitterness of a civil war, the two flags side by side. So could you explain why you think this photo is so important, why you therefore chose it for the cover?
Niamh Gallagher [00:06:53] Yeah, it is a really striking photo ... and it's well worth it ... looking at. So the photo originally came from a glass plate that was broken, found under lots of rubbish in the back of a tiny little museum in County Cork. And it was found by a man whose grandfather had served in the First World War and who was part of the Cork Western Front Association - who've been doing a lot of really great work in trying to recover experiences, not only of veterans but of communities in the First World War. And the photograph shows a rather large crowd of people who turned out for this day, for the unveiling of the War Memorial in Cork on St.Patrick's Day in 1925. And what is striking about it is, first of all, the visual imagery, the tricolour that you mentioned, is very much foregrounded in it as well as a union flag. Now, this was Cork, Rebel Cork - Cork for a time became the Republic of Cork, believing it was more Republican than the rest of the country put together, in the middle of the War of Independence, which was 1919 through to 1921. And certainly this was so far off my radar that Cork could possibly have such a sort of reconciliatory event in 1925 - a handful of years after this effectively civil war between Ireland and Britain followed by a civil war within Ireland itself, over the terms of what had been agreed between Ireland and Britain. And I tried to dig into who was at this memorial, and I found very much a similar pattern to what I find in the Cavan example that I mentioned, or indeed right through the island of Ireland throughout the duration of the war. And this was Catholics and Protestants turning out together to memorialise or to mark and to think about and to remember those who had fallen in the First World War. So it was quite striking. It was striking again that this could happen so late into the 1920s when apparently Catholics and Protestants defined by their political allegiances, Nationalists/Unionists ... had become really estranged, allegedly so. That was one thing that was striking another was that you could have this expression of remembrance with the visual iconography of both the new Irish Republic as well as the union flag, when these symbols were really contested and had been in the very recent war - as it happened after the First World War in Ireland, war of Independence, that I mentioned and indeed Civil War in Ireland that resulted and its aftermath. And it was also very striking that this could happen in the city centre of Cork because Cork had been burned to the ground by crime forces during the War of Independence from 1919 through to 1921. So it seemed really quite striking that these symbols could be there, that both groups of both sides who would have had very different political allegiances in that conflict or indeed generally and that the crowd of people who attended were not just an accidental crowd, they were responding to adverts in newspapers ... There was a lot of organisation that went into this event. There was money in fundraising that had gone into it. This was a concerted community effort to turn out to see deliberately this unveiling on Patrick's Day 1925. So that, I think, sets the tone of how important the First World War was in modern Irish history, which is quite striking, given its relative absence in the historical work, the historiography.
Richard Grayson [00:10:30] All summed up in one photo - it's really interesting. I think you can see how it would be a great piece for students to discuss. Just asking them the question, why is this photo surprising?
Richard Grayson [00:10:42] You just mentioned historiography and you've already talked a little bit about this, but I wondered if you could just reflect on how you see the current state of historiography on Ireland's First World War and how your book engages with that, challenges it, takes it further, those sort of areas.
Niamh Gallagher [00:11:10] So when I came to the project back in 2009, I think a lot of I began this work. There was relatively little published about Ireland in the First World War. There had been quite an active military historiography. And so what the units had done, what the regiments had done, and kind of battles and the strategy and stuff, and I'm sorry to disappoint many of your listeners, but that doesn't really interest me in the big questions of how could Ireland, a society that is pushing for Home Rule for such a long time, a society that saw a new revolutionary Republican movement started to emerge in its ranks. How could it have put its weight behind the First World War for such a long time? And how did these images of remembrance right throughout the 1920s and even into the 1930s, how do they align with what we know about Ireland in this period? What we did know about Ireland was that Ireland underwent a revolutionary movement and the First World War, really until 2009, had not really been a part of that. If anything, it was a backdrop to the main event, kind of more of a fact rather than the sort of man show. And that main show is the Easter Rising and what happened thereafter. That's the rebellion in Dublin. About 1300/1500 Irish volunteers occupy key locations across the city centre and we try to do it elsewhere in Ireland, so less successfully. And they fight the Crown Forces for about five days before surrendering ... and 16 of them are executed, over well, mainly over two weeks, but some some later, like Roger Casement. And this sort of symbolic event takes on really great importance in not even the politics of the time, which help to explain why Sinn Fein, the Republican Party, takes the credit for the Easter Rising wins its first general election ever - in the 1918 UK general election, and then the War of Independence etc: that follows. So it's the Rising, it's sort of the key moment that helps to bring all of this together, even though there are very important events prior to 1916 that we should be thinking about as well. But these are the events that are foregrounded not only in the historiography, but also a national memory.
Niamh Gallagher [00:13:23] If you go to Dublin, for instance, the GPO, the General Post Office is still there on the main street, that's a common street in Dublin, and there are very few places where I can think of a main street, Oxford Street, wherever, you know, and Potsdamer Platz, or whatever it might be, where you can think of such a ... in a way rudimentary organisation, the post office still being there on the highest rates - tax rates. One might think that these aren't actually costs. And so it's very symbolic and it was symbolically marked in the 2016 Centenary, as it was in 1966. You know, these are the big events in the Irish national memory, these are the events that are marked, these are the distinguishing features of Irishness. They have come to be the kind of central history. The First World War enshrines that. And when I came to this project, it was barely there because like I say, if anything, it was sort of mentioned that perhaps the First World War might have radicalised a few people. That was about it. But it seemed to me that the First World War was much more than just who fought whom on the Western Front or what happened in Gallipoli. But how do you explain these incongruences between this revolutionary movement and fighting for a conflict that until then, I thought was Ireland helping the British war effort? So that's really what this historiography was saying. There had been effectively nothing written on ... and in some ways it's quite striking and it says a lot about how we conceptualise nationality. There had been nothing written about the Irish who had emigrated or indeed signed up in regiments elsewhere.
Niamh Gallagher [00:15:02] If the First World War was mentioned, it was by recruitment from Ireland alone. And this to me also seemed fundamentally flawed, not least because one third of Irish born people lived outside the island of Ireland in 1911 - one third. So this isn't to include first generation Irish people, second generation Irish people, or those from the island of Ireland who indeed signed up in a regiment outside of Ireland. And as you and I know, Richard, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, very well indicates that most Irish people who fell in the First World War were not within the Irish regiments. They were in other units. This is a much more complicated picture. So I wanted to bring in emigration, which had not been there. I wanted to have a more sort of capacious understanding of Irishness, not rooted to who was born in Ireland, which, in a way I think is a very problematic way of thinking about nationality to begin with. And so I wanted to expand that horizon. And I did that by thinking about Ireland and the British Empire. And you might ask ... well, why the empire? When I look at the Irish in America, I mean surely more of them are there ? And there's a lot of truth within that. But America didn't enter the war until 1917, unlike the British Empire, which was a part of the conflict right from the start.
Niamh Gallagher [00:16:21] So my time with the Cork Western Front Association helped to reveal some very striking facts, and that was that the majority of Irish people from Cork, who had fallen in the First World War, had fallen in regiments within the British Empire - not in the American forces. So this was another kind of good evidential claim as to why I should look at the Irish who served in the British Empire regiments. And by doing so, it kind of opened up this world of Irishness itself as a very important motivator for so many different people all across Canada, Newfoundland, in Australia in New Zealand and in South Africa as well - also in Britain. And how this dimension of the war, this kind of 'nationality', invested with different meanings, perhaps in different places - itself, became a sort of useful phenomenon as to why so many people joined up - and so many then communities made that war effort possible because it is frequently forgotten that no war effort could have possibly occurred had it not been for the support of those who stayed at home, whether it was through armament production, food supplies, bringing letters ... to the front. This is a constant circulation of people, not to mention the wounded, you know, happening between home and front. So the segregation between them is something that my book also tries to trouble.
Richard Grayson [00:17:39] We want to come back to recruitment in general. But just since you so recently mentioned the wider diaspora and the British Empire, there's a particular moment when the Irish Canadian Rangers visit, and I wondered if you could tell us a little about that and what sort of issues ... that throws up, that have a wider significance?
Niamh Gallagher [00:18:02] Absolutely. So the Irish Canadian Rangers are one of the many Irish units created in the First World War in countries that are not Ireland, but which preserve that Irish designation. There are voluntary units raised in Montreal ... and it was very clear from the outset that they would enshrine both their Irish designation as well as their Canadian designation. This is done not only in the name of the regiment, but also in its military badge, where you have the maple leaf enshrined with the shamrock, the Irish shamrock, topped with a crown ... So very much in the iconography of the unit, you can see the regiment, you can see the sort of blending of Irishness and a Canadian identity. And they're ... founded by Catholics and Protestants. Again, a very similar kind of pictures I was seeing in Ireland, generally founded by, we would say, again, kind of middle class people, people who had been to very fancy schools who are well known in local communities, who also were very active in parish circles and various things like this. And it was voluntarily recruited. Comprising both Irish born men, but also those who were first and second generation Irish who deliberately signed up to that unit. It was decided at some time in late 1916 in the heart of Westminster, that this unit should do a sort of recruitment propaganda tour of Ireland in early 1917 - because it was fundamentally believed that Ireland was not pulling its weight in terms of recruitment. And that's an important point we should come back to, just to query a little bit.
Niamh Gallagher [00:19:39] So off went one battalion of this regiment, I think it was the199th Battalion that went to Ireland in early 1917, January and February 1917, and it toured a number of places. I can't remember the exact order, but it went to Dublin, Belfast, Armagh, Cork and Limerick. And from what I recall, and this was very interesting because this was a sort of test case of yet another thing that had popped up in the historiography - that the Easter Rising had changed people's attitudes towards a war that they were not really supportive of to begin with. And almost a year later, nine months later, this was going to be a good indicator as to how far the war was unpopular in the public. And I thought this would be a very good sort of way of testing that hypothesis. And I actually find the opposite. I did a huge amount of work to find out - can I find dissent in Ireland in January or February 1917? So I explored all of the radical press, including all of the mainstream press and any kind of evidence I would expect to find popular and significant dissent. And I did not find any.
Niamh Gallagher [00:20:50] And that was interesting - because, again, it confirmed what I was already thinking, that support for the war in Ireland still remained very strong in early 1917. The Easter Rising did not seem to impact that whatsoever. There were crowds of people turning up to all of these events. And we can really get into the nitty gritty of crowd behaviour. Now, why do people go to events - and they do that for a whole variety of reasons. So the fact that we find , well I find in so many different newspapers - the reports of how people greeted this unit were really, really positive. And some of the meanings extrapolated from their visit included this idea of Irish emigration, people coming home, the pride people had, that they were going to go off and fight on the side of the Allies. This is something else that maybe we can talk about, that sort of difference so that was sort of happening between the Brits supporting the British war effort and supporting the allied war effort. But still, it was very much seen to be a moment of pride. And there were these sorts of stories whereby somebody in the unit who saw his family went through and met them and hugged them, etc., etc. But mainly these are first generation, or even second generation Irish Canadians, who were passing through Ireland. And, you know, lots of important people met them, including Cardinal Michael Logue, the head of Catholic Church in Ireland, who was incredibly positive towards them. But even those who had been painted as the arch Republicans and dissenters such as Edward O'Dwyer, Bishop O'Dwyer of Limerick, who had been from the start very critical of the allied war effort and said, well, actually the Allies are committing as many atrocities as indeed Germany is. So, you know, this idea of righteousness really needs to be interrogated a bit more. He was very welcoming to the regiment and brought many officers to his diocesan home. And yeah, I mean, all in all, it was a very welcoming event. And I struggled to find any indication that the Easter Rising in the nine months that had followed had severely dented attitudes towards the war effort at that point in early 1970.
Richard Grayson [00:22:56] Let's pursue that again in a moment but just before we get too far from the historiography, I just wanted to go back and think about the question of recruitment, which has been one of the long running debates within historiography, I suppose back to the mid 1990s when David Fitzpatrick published 'The Logic of Collective Sacrifice' in the Historical Journal. Given the point you've made about the Irish Canadian Rangers and how they illuminate a certain set of perhaps surprising attitudes, how would you say it's best to summarise why Irish people engaged ... with the war efforts in the First World War?
Niamh Gallagher [00:23:42] Great question ... and I think there's no single answer. There are lots of reasons why. And it depends as well on what period of the war you're actually looking at, because they are radically different. So with early 1914, Ireland was no different than the rest of Britain and its rush to the colours. So I think it's useful just to temper that a little bit. Catriona Pennel and her very important study, which is called 'The Kingdom United', looked very closely at those initial months of war and saw that there was no sort of blind rush to the colours right from the 4th of August. But actually people started to join up more in September whenever the war started to look very serious. So just want to temper that kind of rush to the colours of narrative - Ireland matched this pattern. There was a lot of enthusiasm at the start. Numbers were very high and then this continued into early 1915, at which point they started to decline. Now, when Irish historians look at this, they say, Ah, here we go. It begins - the kind of delusion that people had in joining the war effort and starting to assess it. And then this would continue right through until the end, a sort of linear picture. I went up a bit and then it went completely down and the whole way forward I'd say the whole, the whole for the duration of the war there thereafter. But actually, I had a look at British recruitment figures as well. And Ireland is no different insofar as recruitment starts to taper off quite dramatically from early 1915. So it gets more complicated when you try to think about the introduction of conscription to Britain in early 1916, as all men over the age of 21 to begin with, and that was later lowered to 18. And then the Conscription Bill was extended in Britain again in April of 1918. Now on both of those occasions Ireland avoided the measure - so it remained an entirely voluntary effort right throughout the war. And my caveat is that conscription was going to be implemented in Ireland, and in fact a bill was passed to do so in April 1918, but not one single man was conscripted. We can talk a little bit about that later. So generally we have this picture of major trends, of people in Irish and Britain joining up in large numbers in 1914, early 1915, and then starting to decline after that between 1916 and 18. You can't really do a comparison because you've got conscription in Britain you don't in Ireland. So that's sort of the broad brush figures. But then you can very easily drill into them. Some historians say, well, let's have a look at some major cities in Ireland and compare them to Britain and actually is quite lacklustre in comparison. Well, or even country areas, country centres or counties. And I think that the important point to emerge from this is that people fail to realise that the war offered incentives rather than just joining up - it completely inflated prices, which trebled in the first weeks before became much more attractive for people to stay at home as the months went on when they stabilise at the high prices in agricultural places all across both islands. There were fewer enlistees, fewer people who joined up because you need labour to produce food for your food for the country, but food also for the war effort. And Ireland is mainly an agricultural place. So there were lots of other ways in which people could engage. Which brings me onto the point that actually recruitment itself, it is a very fascinating indicator, but it can obscure as much as anything else, because if you try to look at how people engage in the war effort in other ways, then you're actually ... opening up your mind to how people engage with the war effort on an island. Actually, farmers were very prolific in their produce. And in 1917, when Ireland looked like it might be threatened by German submarine warfare, embarked on a tillage campaign, kind of like a sort of feed the nation campaign in the Second World War, you know - grow crops wherever you can. And farmers, labourers, people who had access to land were growing as much as they could throughout 19 17 and 18 in a way that far surpassed elsewhere in Britain - demonstrating that this agricultural dimension is really important when you're thinking about recruitment. If you focus on recruitment alone, the conclusions you might draw from that will indeed be flawed.
Richard Grayson [00:28:01] So let's focus on this change over time that you talked about and you suggested we might come back to 1918 and the conscription crisis, and I think now would be a good chance to do that. So, tell us about how ... about what happened and what impact it had.
Niamh Gallagher [00:28:22] So in British circles, I should be more specific again, in the government, in Westminster, those halls and cabinets and various places, people were sceptical that Ireland was pulling its weight and they knew and by early 1918 they'd undergone the Somme, Passchendaele, a massive pushes that has resulted in no real change whatsoever.
Niamh Gallagher [00:28:46] But crucially, 1918 was very different to any other year. This is in the aftermath of the Eastern Front's collapse because of the Russian Revolution. So Russia disappears from the war and Germany moves an astonishing amount of armaments and personnel right from the east through to the west. And this is when you get your major movement and war that hadn't been seen since those early weeks of 1914. When you think about the First World War, we think about stalemate. People in trenches like no real movement whatsoever. And that is true for a large part of it. But in early 1914 and at this moment in 1918, you actually have miles of land being covered by either side at different points in time. And this is a very serious moment for the Allies. America still hadn't deployed most of its troops or indeed arsenal. They wouldn't arrive until later in that year. France was suffering from mutinies in its army and also kind of the aftermath of serious battles really just been through as well. And really with the British Third and Fifth Armies that were the ones who had to hold that line to the German advance. And in order to do so ... those who were in charge of the War Cabinet knew that there was no way they could undertake another voluntary effort to get the number of men who were needed quite urgently. The only way to do that was to extend the conscription range. So reducing the age to 18 and I think bringing it up to 55. I remember my book correctly and anyway there was a strong feeling that British public opinion might not be very willing to accept this expanded age range because of what society had gone through. And it very much felt as if everything in Ireland had evaded so much of the hardship in the war because it had avoided the conscription measures, because so many farmers and neighbours were clearly staying at home and they were seen to be getting off lightly. But this is also part of the view and kind of a mistaken view that many British ministers had of Ireland without really knowing the circumstances of the time. So the decision was to expand on age range from 18 through to 55 in Britain, but the only way that they would be able to do that, as Adrian Gregory has quite convincingly argued, was to conscript Ireland - and they were conscripting Ireland and the notion that they probably wouldn't get one man ... and they also were conscripting Ireland, knowing that they were going to do severe damage to those very important political discussions over Home Rule that are most recently been happening since 1912. They were therefore prepared to actually let those slide in aid of the war effort. The war effort was deemed to be a greater priority. So Ireland was conscripted.
Niamh Gallagher [00:31:31] The response in Ireland was, I think, far greater than what any Cabinet minister might have anticipated. The sheer opposition to the war effort was tremendous ... to the opposition to the Conscription Bill, was tremendous - and this has been the confusion in the historiography. I'll come on to that in a second. Not only did ordinary people object to conscription, but the Catholic Church threw its weight behind it as well. And that's because the Bill, in its current form, also threatened to conscript ministers of religion. So it was silly in lots of different ways. And obviously the Catholic Church is going to say, "No, thank you very much. You can't do that to us". So they - who are a very forceful, powerful organisation in Ireland, help to prop up this anti-conscription appeal - and through fundraising, petitions, demonstrations, etc. It became really clear not one moment Ireland was going to agree to conscription. Now this - this sort of opposition in Ireland, which was so widespread, has been confused by historians as being equated with opposition to the war. Right. Because of the huge demonstrations (lives we will not) would not be conscripted, etc., etc.. Historians have said, well, this could be the Easter rising taking effect. In the first instance, Ireland was apathetic about the war, or I should say nationalist or apathetic about the war. Then the Easter Rising happens, then they become radicalised, then the conscription crisis demonstrated how much they had lost support of the war. That is roughly the narrative in most of the historiography - written about that period.
Niamh Gallagher [00:33:04] But instead, by drilling into well, what were people opposing it during the construction crisis that illuminated actually all the other types of things? On the one instance, there was certainly no agreement over what form - what constitutional future Ireland should have. There were people saying, you know, we need Home Rule now. There are others who say we need a republic. There were others saying the former is not working. We need a new solution. You had kind of new, different takes on how this long term question between Britain and Ireland and the relation between them shouldn't be solved. There was no mass Republican opposition. It was very fragmented and patchy. Lots of different views at that point in early 1980. But Ireland's future might look similarly illuminated, really interesting debates and plenty of councils and other places regarding this crucial question over if Ireland is not going to be - or Irishmen are not going to be conscripted - can they still voluntarily join up?
Niamh Gallagher [00:34:03] And this is really interesting and lots inclined to conceive of these debates perhaps. And it was quite clear in almost all of them that while most people were against conscription - certainly most who had a bit of a nationalist persuasion were absolutely against conscription, their sympathies were entirely with the allies entirely. And that makes complete sense. Not only had Ireland thrown its weight behind the allied war effort, not only did it have all these connections through emigration and diaspora, not only in the Empire, but certainly by America. And not only with America such a sort of golden idea in the eyes of Irish nationalists, of course you're going to throw the weight behind the allies. This link between Ireland and Germany, which some historians flag up as being somewhat greater than that of the Allies, was such a minority link under really good instances of showing why that is so inconsequential during this time as well.
Niamh Gallagher [00:34:56] So the conscription crisis .... had nothing to do with opposition to the war effort. It was a chance to air grievances against Westminster, which had been stoked certainly since the Rising, not diminishing the importance of the Rising here, but also the crucial point that Westminster did not have the consent of the Irish people. And that was the whole point upon which the nationalist movement had been based. Westminster does not dictate ... for Irish people. That has to be dictated through Parliament in Dublin. And this was the ultimate negation of what Irish nationalists, over so many decades, had indeed been campaigning for. So for them, it was fundamentally this issue of consent that emerged from these debates.
Richard Grayson [00:35:38] So you highlighted .... continued support for the Allied War Effort, with the emphasis on Allied rather than 'British" in 1918. You mentioned earlier that there are many ways of supporting the war effort other than joining the armed forces ... until Fionnuala Walsh's book on 'Women in the Great War in Ireland' ... there was relatively little published on this, but you've also got things to say about women's engagement with the war. So I wondered if you could tell us about that subject.
Niamh Gallagher [00:36:11] Absolutely. So women are so often, and were so often unaccounted for. It's very much a masculine topic. And men are generally interested in the soldiers and guns and etc., etc.. And women, if there at all. It's true of oh, well, they're sort of in a humanitarian capacity, caring and picking up each other or something like this. So it's an inherently gendered topic and how you approach it. But actually, you know, we forget that when men, they went away, this is one of the few times where women were able to do jobs that normally they couldn't have done - whether it was taxi drivers, tram drivers, working post office workers, whatever it might be. So in a way, lots of feminists, at the time - I think we can't use that word for them, Suffragette activists anyway, felt that actually the war might have been a great liberating event for women.
Niamh Gallagher [00:36:59] Now in the end when the men came home, this was very much made clear that the women should be kicked out of all of those jobs and the men should be given them back - back to a 'gendered normality' - which then persisted for many decades thereafter. So you see similar things in Ireland. You see similar things with women engaging in jobs that they wouldn't have done beforehand. You see women now becoming very active in civil society circles, fundraising for troops. Yes, engaging in those traditional gendered spheres of caring for soldiers or the wounded or fundraising for them or holding fetes and galas for them. You know, this is no kind of massive feminist revolution hear, there's those gendered ideals of accepted behaviour from women are still very much present and how women engage with the war effort.
Niamh Gallagher [00:37:44] So my book tries to bring out some of that engagement ... and there are so many different types of societies. From the fundraising to the fetes, to the galas, to the competitions, to the caregiving, etc., etc.. But I've got to mention one which I thought was quite interesting. And though these all demonstrate women's engagement ... and women who are generally involved in managing these events, are again broadly the kind of lives of the big shakers (in town) etc., and really the sort of established middle classes. Those who are doing a lot of the work are much more mixed in terms of their backgrounds. And ... one organisation that caught my attention was the Women's Sphagnum Moss Depot. I don't think they'd call themselves the women's Sphagnum Moss depot, but they were basically all women, or at least I'd say 90- 95% women. So the kind of work and they were founded in Dublin by Elsie Henry, who was the wife of Augustine Henry. He himself was a very renowned botanist ... before the First World War, was interested in forestry, and Elsie was equally interested - and they were all committed to research together and do things and had lots of those diaries. But all these amazing plants that she's found and purely a researcher, you know, really interested in the detail. But when war struck, they started to think about some of the properties of plants in Ireland and how they could be usefully deployed. And they were interested in moss, the peculiar variety of moths called sphagnum moss, which can be found all over Ireland because it grows very well in peaty areas - there is a lot of peat and therefore moisture, etc., which for those of you who've been to Ireland, know that that's quite a common feature of the weather. And sphagnum moss they found had amazing absorbent properties. Not only was it incredibly light to transport, but it was really, really good soaking things up ... and also I think had some sort of medicinal kind of antibacterial properties as well.
Niamh Gallagher [00:39:40] So they realised that actually this could be a wonderful way to be a sort of substitute bandage for people who had been wounded. And they started this organisation which relied on moss pickers - all across the island of Ireland, to pick moss. Now this is no easy enterprise. If any of you have been to a peat bog, you'll know that it's not exactly easy to access, but you're probably going up some rickety road 100 years ago. You're tramping out. You're into the kind of people itself, you're digging things up. No, it's a very laborious effort. And I find reports of ... women, elderly women voluntarily going to do this with a big sack of moss over their backs, backbreaking work, bringing it then to the cart, which would then go to the local depot and it will then be sent to Dublin for processing and then shipping.
Niamh Gallagher [00:40:33] So these sorts of organisations started by women, participated in by women, became really important - not only in Ireland, but ... they were spotted in an international capacity. Soon after, Canada, Britain and America were all trying to use, like the moth, a sort of substitute bondage, when in an era where bandages were needed very rapidly and there certainly was not enough of them. So I think that's just something to keep in mind as well about women's engagement in an intellectual way ... because we know wars are very good for technological advancement. We rarely think of anything beyond the military advancement of the war. But here we have medical advancement in which women played a role in Ireland - and ended up playing a core role in the wider war effort as a whole.
Richard Grayson [00:41:17] Women lose their lives, of course, because of the war at sea. They're passengers sometimes travelling for war work, but otherwise for ... other reasons. On the many ships that are sunk due to unrestricted submarine warfare and this has a wider impact on Ireland. I think the War at Sea is often neglected for the MUD of the Western Front. Could you tell us how you see the war at sea being significant to Ireland?
Niamh Gallagher [00:41:53] Absolutely, yes. So, Richard, I think I'd even go further to say that more lessons from my book - the war at sea was absent from mainstream historical works of the First World War. And I mean absent - there have been local historians who are fascinated by this dimension and who have written a couple of books on the Lusitania, which was a ship sunk on the 7th May 1915 off the coast of Cork. But this is seen to be almost like a ... hobbyist enterprise. Morrissey is not mentioned in the comments of the First World War. And for those who talk about this ... cite this story, this narrative of the Irish, or Irish nationalists, being against the war effort, apathetic towards the war effort, and then against the war effort - they have no ... the war at sea is not on their horizon whatsoever.
Niamh Gallagher [00:42:40] But what I find is actually the war at sea is probably one of the most significant - significant aspects of the First World War, that keeps Ireland behind the Allies. I found some maps of the war at sea itself from 1917 when Germany embarked on its unrestricted submarine warfare campaign. And while this is more ... or better known usually in Britain, it's forgotten that so much of that war at sea happens in the Irish Sea, and in the North Sea ... and in the kind of sea surrounding the island of Ireland, but also in Britain as well.
Niamh Gallagher [00:43:13] And some maps which maybe are well worth looking at, just to kind of get a sense of, I think those maps even show vessels that were successfully sunk - rather than those who were attacked. So the numbers would be greater again. And so much of this happened around the coastline of Ireland and affected women, children, men, anybody who is travelling in passenger ships or indeed lived on the island themselves. The Lusitania is a very big example .. and I think my book spends quite a lot of time looking at it. I think the Lusitania is really one of those sort of - if I can use a modern day comparison, but hopefully one that will work - a '9/11' moment. A ... significant moment that .... changes conceptions - and changes how discourse is spoken about for, you know, the years that followed the Lusitania is that sort of moment.
Niamh Gallagher [00:44:04] This is a ship which was travelling from New York torpedoed by a German U-boat off the coast of Cork. It kills more people than the Titanic. And of course the Titanic has all the popular resonance, the Lusitania not really. And all of those bodies, the bodies that were there or those who were injured came to Cork. It was a huge local effort to try and help as quickly as they could. And then there were visitors flocking to Cork to try to identify the dead etc. etc. So what you have in this event are a number of different things which are important for influencing public opinion. You have, first of all, gossip. We forget how important gossip is, when people actually turn up and see what's happened to these people who have died in very nasty conditions. And the ... rigor mortis sets in nasty ways. How this this kind of gossip then starts to transcend through communities that they had seen what the Germans had done - very rapidly it was established that it was a German U-boat that sunk the RMS Lusitania - through a court appeal and a local court adjudication that happened within days of it following. And very clearly the result was that this was the Germans who had done this.
Niamh Gallagher [00:45:21] You had, like I say, all these people coming to Cork looking for relatives, people trying to help them with accommodation, etc., etc.. You had this sort of humanitarian dimension of those who had lost family members, children losing parents, etc., and local people stepping in to help.
Niamh Gallagher [00:45:37] You had the mass burials that needed to happen within a short space of time. So then local regiments, actually some of their first experience of war was in Cork, was digging these mass graves for those who were affected by those who were killed by the U-boats. So all in all.
Niamh Gallagher [00:45:55] Well, and then this event got translated right through the national press: the photographs, the reports, just the sort of sensationalised stories from survivors - that tell of the harrowing circumstances and how they survived. And then ... the element that always strikes a chord in Irish or nationalist hearts at the time, which is sort of the pathos of immigration - and emigration was a necessity for Ireland, but also in the lamentations. People didn't like to see people emigrate, but knew that they had to.
Niamh Gallagher [00:46:28] And there were stories of people coming home to Ireland on RMS Lusitania for the first time - they were coming home to see their family they hadn't seen in 15 years, they've been earning money in New York and now they'd been killed. So this kind of added this additional sense of lamentation to the whole thing.
Niamh Gallagher [00:46:42] And there was a fundraising appeal set up for the Lusitania. I can't remember the exact number right now, but it was incredibly high. That is one of the things that strikes me throughout Irish people were so generous with their money right through the war effort. So much so that the Red Cross noticed, at the end into the Twenties, in their final report to the British Isles during the war, that actually the three southern provinces of Ireland stood out the most - in terms of the proportion of the funds that they gave. So people were incredibly generous. The war at sea then continues. It wasn't just the Lusitania and the several other boats. There was another one, a couple of years later was the RMS Leinster, which was a postal ship, a mail service ship sunk between Dublin and Liverpolol, or Holyhead, actually.
Niamh Gallagher [00:47:28] And in the meantime, you had other aspects of the war at sea. You had mines that were later on the Irish coast and then fishermen, which unfortunately happened upon them. And the end result was, as you can imagine ... and these were the sorts of things that were devastating for local communities because local fishing boats, often the sort of the family, were tied together or kind of a very tight knit community. So just like those early battles in the war had been so devastating in those new armies that were recruited from local villages, etc., where everybody made adjustments at once. Similarly, when something like this happens, you know, fishermen strike a min you had that similar kind of impact - at that local level. This happened all throughout the war. And in fact, it's one of the reasons why Irish farmers and neighbours and those involved in agricultural work engage so much in this tillage campaign that I mentioned from 1917 - was because of one, the fear that food imports would be restricted to Ireland because of this German submarine warfare, and two, a very profound national memory, a huge tragedy in the Irish psyche, which was the Great Famine. And those two things were very rapidly combined. The food imports are shut off to Ireland. We might be looking at another Great Famine and there was no better motivator for those involved in agricultural work to make sure they had enough food to protect themselves in that eventuality than the Great Famine of 1845 through to 1852. So yes, the war at sea, I think, was so profound and triggering long term national memories ... and bringing that kind of immediacy of the war, that kind of ... those words, of the sort of 'German barbarism', etc., that had been in currency, bringing all those through to the forefront. So, yes, I think in some ways, maybe even more important to what was happening on either the Western Front or in Mesopotamia ... for bringing the local people really full into the First World War.
Richard Grayson [00:49:28] Interesting to hear you talk about historical memory, which is really where I want to draw to a close. You've had direct engagement with the processes around the centenary of Northern Ireland. As an advisor to official things that have been taking place. And I just wondered if you could briefly reflect on where you think the memory of the First World War now stands.
Niamh Gallagher [00:49:59] I think it's much better. I think for a large part. Well, let me let me go back a bit, my book ... My book actually describes things and looks at 'memory' in the immediate decades after the war, which no one had really properly done. Jim Nutter had done a bit of work on this. But I tried to do it a little more consistently. But still, there's a huge project there if somebody wants to look at it properly. And I did it because there was a very striking article written by Martin Francis Xavier Martin, who himself is a military chaplain in the First World War. When he wrote an article in 1967 talking about the great amnesia in Ireland that existed in national memory over the First World War. And so I tried to say, okay, how does this amnesia square with that long 20th century? Is it there for the whole period? When is it set in, etc., etc.? Or indeed wasn't even there?
Niamh Gallagher [00:50:50] For the twenties and thirties, I think there is active remembrance of the First World War in Ireland. Without a doubt you have war memorials set up like you do all across Britain. You have the local commemorations, you have the fundraising for them, etc., etc.. But it is much more complicated, especially as the years go on, because you have a new generation of young people who have grown up for whom the First World War is not their immediate memory, but they are born and bred on the kind of myths of 1916, the War of Independence, Ireland for the Irish, it's much more kind of inward focussed sense of self - tied up with the kind of new state itself and the government, that successive governments are trying to build from 1922 onwards.
Niamh Gallagher [00:51:35] And then as time goes on as well, you have immigration, people who are dying. You have new political imperatives, a big trade war between parties in Britain. You get de Valera, the president de Valera ... coming. Well, he wasn't president at that time, but becoming the taoiseach. So I mean the prime minister of Ireland in 1932, when his party re-entered the fold - Fianna Fail and de Valera then, you know, he was a radical involved in the Easter Rising in a minor capacity. Shot to fame when all the leaders were indeed killed. And he had natural qualities that brought him to the fore as well. But, you know, for him, Ireland needed to be remade in a way that was not British. So any association of British needed to be limited or cast off as quickly as possible. These are his political priorities in the 1930s, a diminishing Anglo-Irish treaty, which was the document signed in the aftermath of the War of Independence between Irish British representatives, something he was also very much against. That's right. That's not right. He was very much in favour of diminishing the agreement to have them signed. He had helped to lead the anti treaty side in the civil war in Ireland. So really bringing the anti-treaty side back into the 1930s was coupled with creating a new Ireland, one that was a way from a divested from British influence in the First World War didn't fit into that very well. So it was not on the top of his agenda. If anything, he wanted to dampen any sort of memory around it.
Niamh Gallagher [00:53:03] The Second World War changes things again. Very briefly, it's the neutrality that Ireland experienced in the Second World War again, and de Valera's policy was coupled up with this idea of sovereignty that those 26 countries that were Ireland would be neutral and therefore, Ireland would be expressing its sovereignty and not get tied up in a bigger war like it did in the First World War. The First World War was certainly influencing some of the memory and policy decisions made in the Second. In the decades that followed the First World War it was sufficiently far away and not a political priority of the parties - and indeed of a new generation who had been born and bred in Ireland with new national myths and stories, that it was not a priority.
Niamh Gallagher [00:53:50] So I think for a large part of that second half of the 20th century, certainly from the 1950s onwards, you can see some of the truth in what Francis Xavier Martin said in his 1967 article. But all of that starts to change this century and back in what we're now probably going to call the 'good old days', so that through the 2010 period, through maybe 2016, maybe even slightly before that, Anglo-Irish relations were actually quite strong, and they were strong due to a number of factors. Northern Ireland seemed to be actually getting on with stuff since 2007, the Stormont Executive had been restored. Power sharing seemed to be working. Martin McGuinness was the first deputy first minister and seemed to be cooperating actually. You know, that seemed like a resolution to a very long process. The Troubles started 1968 with civil rights protests against one party state government, which had broken something much more protracted and long term not resolved in 1998 with the Good Friday Agreement. But, you know, that was a really important milestone, certainly, but in those years that followed. They kind of attempt to establish a power sharing government, therefore giving priority to National Community parties so that no one party could dominate the other, as had been done for the first 40 years of 'Forman's' (?) History. So Martin McGuinness, who had been in Sinn Fein, of course Ian Paisley of the DUP had been cooperating and Northern Ireland was actually working. Secondly, between the Republic of Ireland and Britain, relations are quite good as well. The Queen, for the first time in her history, had come over to visit Ireland in 2011 and then came over and visited Northern Ireland the following year. And on those occasions she met Martin McGuinness. He had these kind of profound moments where a former IRA man is meeting the British monarch. It seemed like, in a way, the ultimate public example of reconciliation and all of this really helped sort of neutralise any of those very nationalistic sentiments that had been lined up with the First World War, coupled with the centenary of the war that happened in 2014. You have an outpouring of memory in Ireland regarding that event And when the Queen came over to visit she very clearly went to the Garden of Remembrance, that's the sacred ground for Irish revolutionary heroes, but also went to Ireland Bridge, which is where the First World War dead, or some of them at least, are buried. And so the First World War sort of was brought back into Irish national memory. It was seen, and I think invested with new meaning, by reconciliation. That could be an event that both Protestants and Catholics could get behind. And that might kind of help to heal some of those sorts of long term wounds between Britain and Ireland, mainly held by the Irish. And the British really failed very many of them. But those kinds of, you know, getting over those sorts of grieving processes that were there - and I have to say, all of that looked really positive through until 2016.
Niamh Gallagher [00:56:47] Brexit - the Brexit vote language relations are not good. You can't tell yourself that they are very good and your 'imprudence' (?) or new assumptions and meanings have been put onto the Good Friday agreement with the creation of Northern Irish Protocol, which does fundamentally change that relationship between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK. It's already affecting trading and practises in the island of Ireland, increasing trade between the North and indeed the south. So, you know, these are very difficult moments, again, for Anglo-Irish relations, but it is the First World War in those. In some ways it's too early to say. But in some ways, you can see reactions happening in places. So the memory of the First World War is not one single national homogenous memory. Lots of different groups use memories of these events for their own advantage. And in loyalist communities in Northern Ireland, the First World War is very much bound up with a particular idea of heritage. This idea that Ulster was defined as six counties, not the nine. It's not carbon, like I mentioned, very, very wrong, which is an Ulster. It is not part of Ulster which loyalists define as theirs, which is effectively the six counties of Northern Ireland. And they have a particular memory stretching back to the Somme 1st July 1916, when a 36th Ulster Division, which a lot of loyalists served. But again, like the general picture, they served in lots of places. But still, the 36th is very important - and the losses in the first in some were huge by 5,500 men, casualties, wounded, missing, killed. So loyalist memory of that event in 1916, coupled with their memories of resistance to the IRA, through the Troubles, through to ideas of defence, to ideas of taking us further back 1699, when the original - when William of Orange defeated the Catholic King James. And this sort of event is very central to working class Protestant culture and memory. So you have this sort of collapsing of time from 1690 right through until the formation of the UVF, the Ulster Volunteer Force paramilitary organisation in 1930, through to the Somme, which kind of is sort of crescendo in these sorts of, you know, and this sort of narrative right through until the UVF and all of other loyalist organisations during the Troubles. And for them they did not like this reconciliation, not because this reconciliation narrative was trying to take ownership of the First World War. As far as they were concerned they owned the war, not those who wanted to cooperate and get along. So you know Brexit, if anything, has intensified this and we can fully expect to see memories of this First World War and the other conflicts changing under political presence.
Richard Grayson [00:59:42] Yes. The past is very tied up with the present in this sense, isn't it? Thank you very much Niamh for a fascinating talk. For people to find out more. I would suggest they buy your book, not least because it's now out in paperback at a more affordable price. It really is an excellent book. It won the 2020 Wakefield Prize given by the Royal Historical Society, which is a really prestigious prize and I think is a tribute to the quality of the work in it. Back to you at home.
Tom Thorpe [01:00:14] Well, it's not really much more, I can say for that wonderful exposition of Irish history. I'm sitting in a very sunny Belfast, which is somewhat unusual, and hopefully the sunlight will continue sunny. So thank you very much for both of you and your efforts today. It was fantastic. And we'll return back to our normal format next week. So thank you.
Niamh Gallagher [01:00:36] Thank you very much. I really enjoyed it.
Richard Grayson [01:00:38] Thanks, Tom.
Tom Thorpe [01:00:49] You have been listening to the Mentioned in Dispatches podcast from the Western Front Association with me, Tom Thorpe. Thank you to all my guests for appearing on this edition. The theme music for these podcasts was George Butterworth's 'The Banks of Green Willow'. It was performed by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, conducted by Chris Rissman and produced by BIS Records. This recording is part of a collection of orchestral works by Butterworth, performed by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales and supported by the Western Front Association. This is available from all global stores under the record code. BBC 2195. Until next time.