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Ireland closes down due to general strike against conscription
Men sit at a desk at a church gate in 1918. They are making written protests against conscription. Photo: RTÉ Archives

Ireland closes down due to general strike against conscription

Dublin, 24 April 1918 - Almost all of the country ground to a halt yesterday as workers withdrew their labour in opposition to the proposed extension of conscription to Ireland.

The calling of the general strike followed an Irish Labour Convention at the Mansion House in Dublin over the weekend. 1,500 delegates attended and a resolution calling for yesterday’s strike – ‘as a demonstration of fealty to Labour and Ireland’ – was passed. Mr William O’Brien remarked that the trade union movement would present an unbroken front and stated they opposed conscription because ‘it was sought to be forced upon them by a foreign people, and the workers would equally oppose it even if a native Parliament tried to force it. This was an attempt to exterminate the Irish race.’

Nearly every branch of industry was impacted: shipyards, engineers’ shops, factories, railways and tramway cars. No newspapers were published in Dublin or in the south or west of the country.

Shops were closed, as were theatres and picture houses. Many National and Christian Brothers schools joined the stoppage and in some cases where the schools opened, the teachers found they had no pupils to instruct. Government offices remained open as did the Stock Exchange, banks, solicitors’ offices and post offices, but this did little to change the impression of a country in shutdown or on holiday.

Letters to the Chief Secretary's Office from 15 April 1918 regarding strikes by farm labourers and transport workers in Leixlip. (Images: National Archives of Ireland, CSO RP 1918 10925)

The general stoppage left many idle and they spent their time attending masses where they availed of the opportunity to sign the solemn pledge drafted by the Catholic hierarchy and national political leaders. An estimated 100,000 signatures were added to the pledge in the capital.

On Sackville Street, the Parnell monument was bedecked in tricolours and a scroll bearing the words ‘No Conscription’ was unfurled.

The call-out was not universally observed however; work carried on as usual in Belfast and north-east Ulster with members of the trade unions ignoring the advice of their own leaders. In a number of workplaces catholic employees were informed that should they not turn up for work their positions would be filled and they would not get them back.

[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.