1: Ireland and
the Great War

Whether for the “shilling”, John Redmond, “little Catholic Belgium” or adventure 140,000 Irish men joined the British army in Ireland. Thousands more Irish men were already serving, or were recruited or conscripted in Britain, Australia, the USA and Canada.

PRIMARILY I FELT I WAS FIGHTING FOR IRELAND...

Watch: Emmet Dalton of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers outlines his reasons for joining up and describes the initial reaction of his father to seeing his son in a British Army uniform.

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My father was a soldier, I was born in the British army. I was born in the 3rd Royal Dublin Fusiliers.

Watch: A veteran of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers give his reasons for enlisting in the Great War.

Why did I join? Well I’ll tell you. I had nothing here. There was nothing in it no work or no money or nothing.

Listen: Denis Kelly, a veteran of the Irish Guards, explains how he ended up joining the army in 1914 when he was living in England.

2: Seeing action
on the battlefield

Half the Irish recruits joined within the first six months of the declaration of war. Many worried that it would be all over before they could get to the front. They need not have concerned themselves.

Boredom, hunger, cold, disease, punctuated with occasional bouts of sheer terror and undignified death are some the memories recalled here by veterans.

WE WENT INTO ACTION A THOUSAND FIGHTING MEN AND WE LOST SEVEN HUNDRED.

Listen: Jimmy O'Brien of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers recalls seeing tanks for the first time in 1916 at Beaumont Hamel and how seven hundred men were lost in the battle.

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The noise of the planes, the noise of the exploding shells and we had this terrific rumble of exploding mines.

Listen: A WW1 veteran describes going over the top at the Battle of Messines Ridge, 7 June 1917, just after the British Army had detonated 19 massive mines. In the confusion he came across some terrified German troops.

This horse … he had a lot of blood on his neck and down his shoulder and who evidently had been riding him had died.

Listen: Irish troops fighting at Mons in August 1914 soon found themselves making a desperate retreat. Cavalry trooper E.H. de Stacpoole describes losing his own horse and finding a replacement.

3: Life in the
trenches

The conditions soldiers endured in the trenches were truly awful. Rats, lice, duckboards, incoming shells, raids, snipers, the fear of entombment, the smell of death from no mans land and the occasional seven day furlough.

I twice woke up under water.

Listen: Colonel E.H. de Stacpoole of the The Leinster Regiment talks about how hard it was to keep the water out of the trenches in Flanders, which were prone to flooding.

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And then a shell would blow the trench and fill the trench with clay and smother half of them that was in it.

Listen: Denis Kelly, who served in the Irish Guard, describes the conditions endured by troops at the front in return for seven shillings a week.

The lice eating the flesh off the live ones and rats gorging themselves on the bodies of the dead...

Watch: Jack Campbell of The Black Watch talks about life in the trenches, the fear of going over the top, going hungry and the danger of rats.

4: The casualties
of war

Numbers too vast to imagine. Wounds too ghastly to contemplate. Death as close as the next cigarette. Images too seared on the brain to erase. In their own words veterans recall the horrors they witnessed.

The total number of military and civilian casualties in World War I was over 37 million. There were over 16 million deaths and 20 million wounded ranking it among the deadliest conflicts in human history.

I got ripped up… Blown out sky high.

Listen: A veteran of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers tells how he was injured in a shell explosion at Oppy Wood which killed his three companions.

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Some with their arms blown off, sometimes legs blown off with tremendous wounds…

Watch: Dr Charles Dickson returns to the site of the Battle of the Somme and recalls the horrors he witnessed fifty years earlier.

I would never like to see it again anyway tell you the truth.

Listen: Jack King, a veteran of the Royal Irish Regiment, describes horrific scenes of dead soldiers being buried on battlefields only for the corpses to be blown up again later.

5: News of the
Easter Rising

When word of a rebellion in Dublin spread amongst the Irish fighting abroad the reactions were varied. Some railed against “this stab in the back”. Some tried to desert and get back to Dublin to join in. Most shrugged their shoulders and got on with it.

We felt we had been stabbed in the back.

Watch: Veterans of the First World War discuss how they felt when they heard that there had been an armed rising in Ireland in 1916.

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We were at war in defence of this country and what we believed in.

Watch: On hearing of the outbreak of a rebellion in Dublin in 1916 Emmet Dalton says that he and his fellow soldiers, "Were surprised, annoyed and we thought that it was madness."

Whatever might happen in Ireland after we had gone, well we could do nothing about that.

Listen: A veteran of the Irish Guards recalls hearing about the rebellion in Ireland while stationed in Essex.

6: Living with the
aftermath of war

Relief and elation followed by battle fatigue, alienation, occasional victimisation and silence. Memory became the province of Ulster. In the face of such enormous loss and horror, claims of victory or defeat seem irrelevant, almost sacrilegious. When the fighting finally drew to a close many combatants were too tired to feel much to cheer about.

In the Republic of Ireland public recognition for those who fought in the First World War would be slow to come.

War is war… You kill or be killed.

Watch: Jack Campbell's outstanding memory of the war is the loyalty of his comrades to the cause and the oath.

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I don’t think that today’s generation could survive it.

Watch: Emmet Dalton believes it is impossible to know if Ireland paid too high a price for participating in the war.

With a Northern accent, Protestant name and an ex-service man, it was hard to live here.

Watch: Sam Hutchinson of the Royal Irish Fusiliers talks about life in Dublin after the war, looking for work and the difficulties of being a former British soldier in Ireland.

More from RTÉ

The WWI road show at Trinity College Dublin is part of a major retrospective to mark the centenary of World War 1.

Watch, listen and engage with new programming to commemorate and celebrate the efforts of all those involved in the Great War.

Visit the RTÉ Archives for even more about Ireland’s role in WW1.