Ireland's Experience: Episode 3 - The Home Front
Broadcast on Sunday 17 August at 10am
On this week’s programme, we’re concerned with what was happening here, on the home front during World War 1. The effects of the war were evident everywhere you looked. The "Defence of the Realm Act" granted the government sweeping new powers, temporary hospitals sprang up to accommodate wounded men, while refugees from Belgium streamed into Britain and Ireland.
There was a lot of change during the war years. The Ireland of 1914 was very different from the Ireland of 1918, as the country went through a turbulent period that completely transformed the social and political landscape.
We looked at how the war affected the Irish civilian’s everyday life. The role of women during the war. And the various Irish attitudes to the conflict, how they changed, and why.
Myles was joind by Dr. Conor Mulvagh, lecturer in Irish History at University College Dublin; Dr. Ciaran Wallace, social historian with Trinity College Dublin; and Senia Paseta, Associate Professor of Modern History at the University of Oxford.
The discussion kicked off with an observation that the outbreak of World War One acted as a valve and took the pressure off the civil war which was threatened in Ireland. In fact, the outbreak of war in Europe, had a remarkably stabilising effect here.
Unionist leader Edward Carson promised immediate support for the war effort – as did Irish Parliamentary Party leader, John Redmond. But Redmond’s enthusiasm wasn’t shared by all of his followers and it caused a split in the Irish Volunteers.
One area which saw huge numbers of unionists enlisting was the tightly knit community of North Antrim which had fierce loyalty to the Crown. More than 5,000 men and boys were killed. We heard the story of Anne Morrison-Smyth’s great-uncle, Alec who was killed in the war. The heartbreak remained with his families for years afterwards.
Elsewhere, catholic employees from protestant businesses were also keen to sign up. This changed the demographic of the workplace in many parts of Ireland. One such example is Henry Lyons & Co on the main shopping street in Sligo – as Louise Denvir reported.
Wives of soldiers who went to war received a weekly separation allowance. This was particularly welcomed by the tens of thousands of families who were living in dire poverty. This payment signalled the first time that many women had economic independence.
At this time, groups of middle-class women patrolled the streets of Dublin and Belfast. As Senia pointed out, not to monitor the behaviour of “separation women” but to ensure they were not being unfairly singled out for bad behaviour by the powers that be.
Ciaran and Conor talked about how was the economy in Ireland generally affected by the war. Farmers were the main beneficiaries as they produced food for export to the troops. This meant there were food shortages here during the war and some feared that the country was on the brink of another famine.
Women and the War
Throughout the country, women took over many roles which originally would have been considered to be man’s work.
Tens of thousands of women across the island of Ireland threw themselves enthusiastically into the war effort which required the constant output of munitions of war – such as shells and cartridges, blankets and uniforms. For many, it was the first time they were engaged in paid employment
In rural areas, large groups of women could be seen clambering through wet boggy land to gather moss which would ultimately be made into bandages as Colette Kinsella reported. In the region of one million bandages were exported from Ireland to the front during the war. They ended up in hospitals in places as far away as Salonika and India.
Some women served as nurses on the frontline but the vast majority of Irish volunteers were based at home.
1916 Easter Rising
When news of the 1916 Rising filtered through to their fellow Irishmen who enlisted in World War One, they were none too impressed, as we heard from veterans.
On the day that the Easter Rising was taking place in Dublin, over in France, a German gas attack caused huge numbers of casualties among troops there - as military historian, Tom Burke of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers told us.
Within families, there were sons involved in the republican cause while another was fighting on the Front. Eamonn Ceannt, who was executed for his part in the Rising had a brother, William Kent fighting in France. He was killed in 1915 during the Battle of Arras – exactly a year after the Rising broke out.
On the Western Front, there are accounts of Germans putting up signs specifically targeted at Irishmen telling them there had been a rising in Dublin and that they were fighting on the wrong side. The Irishmen responded by capturing these signs and presenting them to King George V.
Germany’s policy was to attack the empire from both ends. They were assisting revolutions and revolutionary movements among Indians and Russians too.
Impact of the 1916 Rising on Recruitment
Our guests discussed the knock on effect of the Rising on recruitment here and attitudes to World War 1.
During the German invasion of Belgium in 1914, the massacre of thousands of civilians led to an exodus of more than a million people who took refuge in neighbouring countries as well as Britain and Ireland. Their plight was one of the main ways the war was brought home to people here.
Lorcan Clancy spoke to James Durney in Kildare, one of the many places here where Belgian refugees were accommodated. James Durney’s book “In a Time of War, Kildare 1914 – 1918” is published by the Irish Academic Press.
As wounded men began to arrive back from the front, the hospitals and medical staff were overwhelmed. The British Red Cross used buildings (including hotels and colleges), equipment and staff it had secured before the war to set up temporary auxiliary hospitals, to accommodate the wounded men.
Irish counties auxiliary war hospital, Glasnevin.
Liam Geraghty reported on auxiliary hospitals in Ireland.
We heard about the difficulties faced by families here whose loved ones died on the front.
Impact of WW1 on 20th Century Irish History
World War One was the most significant event in 20th century Irish history in that everything that happened here in the following 100 years emanated from it.
The average Irish person today is more likely to have a relative who was killed in World War 1 than in the War of Independence or the Civil War.
The History Show would like to acknowledge the support of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Reconciliation Fund