Irishmen who fought in Great War brushed under the carpet. Or were they? – by Donal Kennedy

Screen Shot 2015-11-01 at 15.18.31

I’M delighted that Liverpool University has acquired a treasure trove of information relating to Ireland and the Irish in Britain, that is dedicated to the memory of Breandan MacLua, co-founder and editor of the Irish Post. I note that on opening the Library, our Ambassador, Dan Mulhall, suggested that generations before his own were so dazzled by the story of the 1916-21 struggle for independence that they had a simplistic, unsophisticated view of 20th century history, which ignored Irish participation in the First World War.

His Excellency, born in 1955, was a mere stripling when Ireland’s opinion-formers did intellectual cartwheels, and this may explain his confusion.

In 1931, when W T Cosgrave was in power, a narrative History of Ireland by James Carty BA was a standard textbook. It quoted General Liman Von Sanders, the German officer who commanded the Turkish defence of Gallipoli, and his tribute to the courage of the Irishmen in the British forces who opposed them.

Carty’s history may not have been too sophisticated, but it was still a school staple when Mr Mulhall was born, and had been used when the Department of education had Cumann na nGael, Fianna Fail, and Fine Gael ministers.

In 1930, another gallant German officer, who had been demobbed after the Great War, was Director of the Irish Army’s School of Music and Conductor of the No.1 Army Band. A series of Irish Fantasias was recorded by the band and the first track is The Foggy Dew. That old song was given a new lyric after the 1916 Insurrection, which celebrated the Insurgents but also saluted the Irish Wild Geese of the day whom Britannia had bade fight that “small nations might be free”.

In the 1950s, Brendan Behan wrote a column every Saturday in Eamon de Valera’s Irish Press. Often he celebrated, with great humour, his Dublin neighbours, many of them veterans of the Great War and the Second Boer War, their wives, widows and children. He recalled watching a film advertised in Dublin as Gallipoli, but entitled in its land of origin as Tell England.

So the organs of state, and of parties of Nationalist Ireland did not brush Irish involvement in England’s wars, on the side of the English, out of the picture. Besides, the veterans were still about, some of whom, like Tom Barry, later joined the IRA, or had brothers in the IRA. If anything, Dan Mulhall has a less nuanced appreciation of our history than the poor, unsophisticated generation whom he patronises.

I doubt His Excellency ever read old copies of The United Irishman, published by Republicans still unreconciled with the Irish State in the 1950s. I remember reading an article in it on Gallipoli and the Irishmen fighting there. It recalled a British officer watching the landings from a ship and askeding: “Why are our men resting?”

The answer was that the men he was looking at were dead, not taking their ease on the beach.



12 Responses to Irishmen who fought in Great War brushed under the carpet. Or were they? – by Donal Kennedy

  1. Cushy Glen November 1, 2015 at 4:13 pm #

    And yet, Jude there are many eyewitness accounts of the returning ‘heroes’ being ostracised after 1918.
    Earlier this year there was a good documentary on the BBC (yes it is possible) about Irish speaking soldiers that suffered this experience on returning home after the Rising & subsequent events ( It may not have been a universal experience, but it was common.
    I am not making a political point here, But the public mood had changed after 1916. Serving in the British forces was no longer seen as a desirable or honourable thing to do.

    • Jude Collins November 1, 2015 at 4:26 pm #

      Point taken, CG – but maybe better directed at Donal…

    • Donal Kennedy November 1, 2015 at 10:50 pm #

      Neither the Republican Government mandated by the voters in 1918 nor Free State or other
      Irish Government agencies discriminated against Great War veterans -except those still in
      uniform tring to suppress it.
      The one fatality I know of in the Howth Penisula, was Henry Guy, aged 31, shot by the “Auxiliary Police Cadets” in Saxe Lane, Sutton, who had been playing Pitch and Toss on
      Sunday 6 March 1921 . Henry Guy, a civilian was an ex-soldier and Great War veteran.

      On St Patrick’s Day 1920 the Royal Irish Constabulary occupied the Parochial Hall in Howth
      to suppress a Children’s Concert orgamised to raise funds for the teaching of Irish.

      You won’t find anything about that on the BBC, or RTE either.

  2. Donal Kennedy November 1, 2015 at 11:00 pm #

    Irish Government agencies from 1918 to today did not victimise veterans of the Great War who returned to civilian life.
    On 26 March 1921 Auxiliary “Police Cadets” shot dead such a veteran, Henry Guy, who
    had been playing Pitch and Toss in Saxe Lane, Sutton in Howth Parish.
    Regular Constabulary on March 17 1920 occupied the Parochial Hall in Howth to prevent
    the customary St Patrick’s Day Children’s Concert which was to raise funds for the
    Gaelic League.

    Tell that to the BBC, RTE and TG4!

  3. ben madigan November 2, 2015 at 12:33 am #

    worse still is how Catholic ex-servicemen were treated in NI after they returned home having done their bit for King and Country and even in 1 case after winning a VC

  4. Perkin Warbeck November 2, 2015 at 7:40 am #

    It is nigh impossible, DK, not to be dazzled by the swathe which our sophisticated Ambassador to the Court of St. Jim, His Excellency Dan Mulhall is cutting through the red tape of our hitherto bush-league take on the, erm, shared history of these islands.

    The use of familiar first names is nothing if not indicative of the new maturity in B and I relationships.

    Not only was Dan the very man to ferry his all inclusive and couth new narrative in his informal jersey across the Mersey but the Mulhall mouth was also to be heard eloquently ventiriloquising in his native city on the Suir to be sure of late.

    That would be through the diplomatic cakehole of the excellent Dommo Chilcott, Her Maj’s Ambassador to the Court of St. Pat at the unveiling of a bust of Field Marshal Fred Roberts of Kabul and Kandahar. In the city of Waterford, Which sophisticated name of course comes from the Old Norse name of Yeorafjoror which of course means ‘wether fjord’.

    Uncle Fred was the firm but studiously humane exterminator of surplus Fuzzy Wuzzies in establishing the Raj of Her Maj. And the avuncular one was still going strong in the Great Donkey Derby 14-18 when long in the tooth Fred became (sob) the oldest soldier to be certified dead.

    At this touching commemorative and celebratory ceremony (codenamed ‘ To Waterford or Bust’,’ ) to be seen to be sure standing shoulder to shoulder before pausing, engaging, and crouching to place wreaths at the base of the bust, were (r to l) the uber-grave Deputy Mayor John O’Leary of F.F. and the President of the Royal British Legion, Maj Gen The O’Morchoe.

    The O’Morchoe?

    The latter may well indicate a significant breakthrough in animal rights if it marks the first time a regimental dog (a de rigeur Irish Wolfhound in this instance) has assumed such a role, though this report remains to be verified.

    The presence of the Fianna Failure bodes well for the future. Between now and the end of the current 14-18 era in Eireland one is confident that more ruminant Redmondites, and other even-toed ungulates will lay wreathes at must-see busts in other Vikingly locations.

    The wether forecast is benign.

    Castration once again !

    Than you Ma’am, says Dan.

  5. neill November 2, 2015 at 10:24 am #

    Donal Kennedy is doing his very best to downplay a very serious issue for very obvious reasons.

    The brave Irishmen who fought against Hitler should openly be applauded and respected as they fought against the cruellest regime ever as we know sadly in the new free Ireland they were not.

    • Donal Kennedy November 2, 2015 at 3:09 pm #

      The Great War was that which started in August 1914 and ended with the Treaty of Versailles.

    • Donal Kennedy November 2, 2015 at 3:53 pm #

      I alluded to the war which ended with the Treaty of Versailles. My mother’s brother Jack, six
      weeks shy of his 17th birthday was badly wounded when a shell from the Kaiser’s Grand Fleet
      landed on HMS Princess Royal off Jutland. Her brother Ned was sent home to die when he was gassed serving with the Dublin Fusiliers during the great German offensive in 1918. Both
      her sisters married Irishmen who served in that war. Jack and Ned survived, though constantly
      in and out of hospital until 1963. They never spoke of heroism. Ned said he threw away his
      rifle and ran for miles, to keep up with the rest of the British Army on that front. He had been
      out there for four years at the time.
      His youngest brother Leo, had joined the Brits between the World Wars, became a Warrant
      Officer enjoying garrison life in Singapore, when Britain’s former Ally, the Empire of Japan
      attacked in 1942. He died when I was six weeks old. My Uncle Ned had been in Fianna Eireann and helped unload the rifles from the Asgard in Howth. Their eldest brother, Denis was real “Man of Violence.” He joined the Christian Brothers and survived ro 1971,

  6. fiosrach November 2, 2015 at 11:26 am #

    People who were viciously and in very petty ways, victimized in the Free State by the Free Staters were those who fought in the anti_Treaty forces. Pension claims were delayed and lost. Public employment was denied to them and harassment by the newly formed police was rife. You don’t hear much about these injustices from those who sob uncontrollably about the treatment meted out to the traitors and deserters who joined the British Army in 1939.

  7. Donal Kennedy November 2, 2015 at 11:27 am #

    They say whom the gods wish to destroy they first make mad.

    Field Marshal Roberts was a monster in numerous campaigns

    in Asia and Africa and an avowed enemy of Ireland. The German

    Generals, including the SS Generals,in Poland and Russia were

    cut from the same cloth.

    • neill November 2, 2015 at 11:57 am #

      Field Marshal Roberts was a monster in numerous campaigns

      in Asia and Africa and an avowed enemy of Ireland. The German

      Generals, including the SS Generals,in Poland and Russia were

      cut from the same cloth.

      At least I know exactly were you are coming from to make the above statement shows how far you are from reality to compare Lord Roberts to SS Generals is so ridiculous that it hurts.

      Did he order mass murder no did he order rape and pillage no. The obvious inference is that by setting up concentration camps he was evil if so that would mean that every nation that had military prisons is evil and that would be plainly silly wouldn’t it?

      That is why you have no credibility whatsover