Thursday 27 April 2017

1,000 Irish died with American army in WWI

Lusitania poster
Lusitania poster

Claire McCormack

ALMOST 1,000 Irish-born soldiers died serving with the United States army in World War I, three times higher than previous estimates, a genealogist has discovered.

Speaking to the Sunday Independent, Megan Smolenyak, the genealogist who traced Barack Obama's roots to Moneygall, Co Offaly, says previous research "significantly understated" the real losses of Irishmen in the Great War.

"Many more Irish-born were killed serving the American military than previously thought. The true figure may be 900 or 1,000, but it's likely somewhere in this neighbourhood," said Ms Smolenyak.

Until now, experts have "logically sought" to investigate the losses, turning to America's army registration data.

However, this process is problematic as the bulk of US military personnel records from 1912 to 1960 were destroyed by a fire in 1973.

After stumbling upon a New Jersey database centred on WWI soldiers, Ms Smolenyak learned that 69 Irish-born individuals from New Jersey had died during the conflict.

Since 3,427 from the state had died altogether, she used simple arithmetic to determine that about 2pc were Irish nationals. She applied a similar method to New York focusing on births, deaths and enlistment records, using census records, military abstracts and ancestry websites. Eventually, Ms Smolenyak estimated that 976 Irish nationals died fighting for the US.

"In spite of these measurement complications, I believe that 976 is a fair reckoning for men of Irish birth who gave their lives in service to the USA in the World War," she wrote in Irish America Magazine, along with a breakdown of her analysis.

The main difference between the new numbers and older estimates is that she had the benefit of "hard casualty data".

"These figures are more reflective and I've shared these figures and my thought process with the idea of provoking conversation," she said.

Until now, Ms Smolenyak believes the most "thorough contemplation" of victims could be found in the work of Irish broadcaster and author Myles Dungan.

"He rose to the challenge and developed a series of assumptions to postulate a figure of 350," he said.

For Ms Smolenyak, whose Irish American grandfather served during the Great War, her research "underscores" the strong ties between the two nations.

She also believes more efforts should be made to identify and commemorate these forgotten Irish men.

"I found 69 Irish-born men in the New Jersey database, but when I searched the Irish National War Memorial Roll of Honour, I could only find one of them included, so adding the other 68 would be an easy starting point - and that's just one single American state," she said.

The author, who has always been "unnaturally obsessed" with historical links between Ireland and the US, encourages more efforts this side of the pond too.

"I'd love to see more local efforts like Longford at War to profile individual soldiers. Of all those I researched, this was the only website that acknowledged soldiers by his home county," she said.

Sunday Independent

Promoted articles

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News