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Clamour for conscription in Ireland grows
An anti-recruitment cartoon by Ernest Kavanagh, dated 1914 Photo: Dublin City Library and Archives

Clamour for conscription in Ireland grows

Derry, 13 December 1917 - The clamour for the introduction of conscription to Ireland grows louder.

Speaking at a war charities bazaar in Derry today, Lord Londonderry has urged the British Government to ‘use their power to bring Ireland into the war’ since Ireland was excluded from the Compulsory Service Bill, which passed in January 1916.

The Ulster peer added that he would like to see the 200,000 young men who were not taking their part in the war and who were prey to disloyal elements, brought under the standards of the British Empire.

Lord Londonderry’s speech is very much in line with an argument that has been repeatedly presented in the British press in recent days. Ireland was being used by ‘defaulters’ as a ‘shelter’ from the Conscription Act, according the Pall Mall Gazette.

And the Evening News has struck a similarly exasperated tone: ‘The taking of men up to 55 while there remains a large army of fit young men in Ireland would cause a great deal of ill-feeling. The Irish problem has got to be tackled promptly and firmly.’ 

Niamh Puirséil discusses the impact of conscription in Britain in 1916 on the Irish labour movement

This growing chorus of support for Irish conscription has not been replicated on this side of the Irish Sea.

The Freeman’s Journal has editorialised that Ireland is presented, by ‘Die-Hards’ in the British press, as the solution to the Allies’ ongoing problems. Instead of looking to the fighting fronts in France and Italy, their eyes are fixed on Ireland as if this country alone blocks the road to victory. ‘In conscription they have found a cry which they believe will enable them to pursue their vendetta against this country’ the article reads, and unless Ireland’s ‘last available man is thrown into the scale, the Allies, despite their overwhelming numerical superiority, must resign themselves to utter defeat’.

Ireland is not alone in grappling with the conscription question, however. In Canada, too, it has been a subject of considerable debate, and the comfortable victory this week of the outgoing government party is being read as an endorsement of Prime Minister Robert Borden’s election policy of compulsory military service.

[Editor's note: This is an article from Century Ireland, a fortnightly online newspaper, written from the perspective of a journalist 100 years ago, based on news reports of the time.]

RTÉ

Century Ireland

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