Sunday 4 December 2016

What really happened to Ireland's Great War soldiers after they returned home?

Dr Paul Taylor

Published 29/08/2015 | 02:30

'Irish soldiers returned to a country in increasing conflict with an enemy whose uniform they had worn'
'Irish soldiers returned to a country in increasing conflict with an enemy whose uniform they had worn'

We are in the midst of a fest of commemoration from the Great War to the Rising, but what we remember often defines more how we see ourselves now than what really happened. The ex-servicemen who returned from the Great War were certainly hostages to such fortune. They became the litmus test for the dominant theme defining the new Ireland; its relationship to Great Britain.

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The simple 'heroics' of the Rising were celebrated as a State occasion; the ex-servicemen forgotten. With the peace process they were remembered, but as the victims of intimidation in the War of Independence and afterwards as marginalised in Irish society, their loyalty to Britain out of step with a new republican ethos. Imagined pasts serve their purpose, but what really happened to them after they returned home?

They returned to a much changed Ireland. On 21 January 1919 the Dublin Fusiliers, returned from France, had been lunching in the Mansion House just before the historic inauguration of Dáil Éireann. As they walked out to the tune of God Save the King, the republicans walked in declaring independence and demanding "the evacuation of the English garrison".

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