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Century Ireland’s Top Picks – 10 articles that explain Ireland in 1917


William Orpen: Ireland’s War Artist
by Alyson Gray

The newspaper announcement was made on 30 January 1917. The Irish artist William Orpen had been appointed an official war artist and was to be sent to the battle lines on the Western front. Under a headline trumpeting it as a ‘Unique Honour’ for the ‘Irish Artist’, the Daily Mail announced:

‘Sir Douglas Haig has conferred a unique honour on a distinguished Irishman, Mr W. Orpen RIA, who has been appointed official artist with the Army in France. Mr Orpen joined the Army Service Corps some time ago. He lost some fine pictures in the RHA, which was destroyed during the rebellion.’

Born into a prosperous Protestant family in 1878, Orpen showed great promise as an artist from an early age. Read more here.


Between armed rebellion and democratic revolution: the Irish Question in 1917
by Mark Duncan

The House of Commons filled with noise and animosity.

It was 10 May 1916 and John Dillon, the veteran Irish Parliamentary Party MP, was skilfully skewering the British Government’s response to the events in Dublin over the previous two weeks: the ongoing executions of the rebel leaders of the Easter Rising; the holding of secret military trials; and the widespread harassment, arrest and deportation of those who were not even involved in the uprising. Dillon, who had witnessed the rebellion close-up, saw in the prosecution of this punitive policy the unravelling of decades of constitutional nationalist progress which had been expected to soon deliver the prize of an Irish Home Rule parliament. Read more here.


When Ford Came to Cork
by Dr Leanne Blaney

A new family business opened their Cork offices at 36 South Mall in April 1917. They would only remain at these premises for a matter of months before moving to new offices at the ‘Marine, Cork’, yet the moment of their arrival is a milestone event in the industrial history of city and country alike. Henry Ford & Son Limited would remain at the ‘Marina’ until 1984. Read more here.


Driving Irish Industry - Ford, the Diaspora & Ireland's economic development 1917 – 2017
by Prof. Seán Ó Riain

As a child in the 1970s I regularly sat in the back of a car travelling along the banks of the Lee at the end of a long journey to visit relations in Cork city. Even to a youngster there was something unusual about it – for on the other side of the river there was that most surprising of sights in Ireland, a large industrial factory. Two factories, in fact – Dunlop, and the icon of industrialism, Ford. Read more here


America, the War & the Cause of Ireland
by Robert Schmuhl

As Woodrow Wilson campaigned for re-election to the White House in 1916, he tried – as best he could – to keep foreign controversies and conflicts far removed from the concerns of American voters. On 4 August 1914 – the same day Great Britain declared war on Germany – Wilson proclaimed US neutrality in the Great War, and that presidential commitment two years later became the basis for the slogan – ‘He kept us out of war’ – Democrats constantly repeated to support their party’s standard bearer for a second term.

On Election Day Wilson narrowly defeated Supreme Court Justice Charles Evans Hughes, with just 23 Electoral College votes separating the two candidates. However, by Inauguration Day (4 March 1917), American neutrality was very much in doubt. Read more here.


Introducing de Valera – The East Clare by-election and the rise of an Irish political leader
by David McCullagh

The East Clare by-election is remembered, a century later, because it announced Éamon de Valera’s arrival on the national stage. Looking back at it with the knowledge that he dominated Irish life for the next half century, we tend to see that arrival as inevitable. But there was nothing inevitable about de Valera’s election in Clare – because there were plenty of other potential candidates, and because he was reluctant at first to run.

Lots of people in Clare – including a lot of priests – wanted Eoin MacNeill to be the by-election candidate; so did Arthur Griffith. Many Volunteers in the constituency were completely opposed to MacNeill, because of his countermanding order in 1916, and thought local Rising veteran Peadar Clancy was the man. And many of the prisoners just released from English jails preferred Thomas Ashe. As it happened, Ashe declined to put his name forward, and the national election committee was wary of choosing Clancy, a local but relatively unknown candidate, after the very narrow victory of Joe McGuinness, a similarly low profile local man, in South Longford. De Valera, as the recognised leader of the released prisoners, was acceptable to the Volunteers and had at least some national profile. Read more here.


War in the Mud: the Irish soldier in Belgium in the summer of 1917
by Lar Joye

In 1917, two Irish Divisions fought side-by-side, in victory and then in defeat. In June 1917, the 36th (Ulster) and 16th (Irish) Divisions benefited from careful preparation and good luck to eject well-entrenched German forces from the important Messines Ridge. The preliminary artillery bombardment was unprecedented in its intensity – three shells exploded on the German lines every second for 12 days. This was followed by the exploding of 19 mines under the German lines killing 10,000 German soldiers. Read more here.


Carrying a cross for Ireland: Thomas Ashe in profile
by Dr Mary McAuliffe

On 25 September 1917, Thomas Ashe, recently appointed President of the Supreme Council of the IRB and one of the senior leaders of the reorganised Irish Volunteers, died after being force fed while on hunger strike in Mountjoy Jail. Ashe was one of only two surviving senior commandants of 1916, and, as such, his death would prove to be a major propaganda occasion for the re-emerging republican movement. Read more here.


One day in Glasnevin Cemetery, 30 September 1917
by John Gibney & Georgina Laragy

One hundred years ago, on September 30th 1917, Thomas Ashe was buried in what would become known as the ‘Republican plot’ of Glasnevin Cemetery. The Kerry-born Ashe had died tragically after being force-fed on hunger strike. But his was not the only funeral to be held at Glasnevin on that day. Historians John Gibney and Georgina Laragy examine the lives and deaths of the six other people interred in the cemetery for what they reveal about the realities of everyday life for Dubliners in 1917. Read more here.


Pictures of the Past: Tipperary life in 1917
by Pat Bracken

A new window on Irish social life has opened with the digitisation of a large collection of photographs that span a period of remarkable social and political change. In this feature for Century Ireland, Dr Pat Bracken explains the provenance of the Murphy Photographic Collection, Ballinamona House, Cashel, Co. Tipperary, and reflects on its value to Ireland's decade of centenaries. Read more here


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The Century Ireland project is an online historical newspaper that tells the story of the events of Irish life a century ago.