Saturday 7 December 2019

New book captures terrifying reality of fighting in the Great War

Ireland and the First World War
Ireland and the First World War
A gas mask drill for the Irish Guards on the Western Front. Photo courtesy of the Imperial War Museum

John Spain

At the same time as the Easter Rising in Dublin, the German army was carrying out massive gas attacks on the Western Front.

Among those remembered yesterday on Remembrance Sunday were the many Irish soldiers who were victims in the First World War.

Poison gas was a horrific new weapon which was used in the war for the first time.

Its victims were members of the 16th (Irish) Division who suffered heavy casualties at Loos, in France.

Pictured here are members of the Irish Guards at a respirator drill in 1916.

'Ireland and the First World War', a new book by Galway historian Cormac O Comhrai, is a comprehensive collection of photographs and memorabilia detailing Irish involvement in the First World War and also what was going on at home.

Using striking photographs from a wide range of sources, this book shows the experiences of the Irish at home and abroad as the Great War raged across Europe.

In some cases, the Irish received little sympathy from fellow soldiers, with allegations of poor discipline, panic and even men cutting holes in their own masks so that they could smoke.

But the reality was much more terrifying.

'Ireland and the First World War' makes it clear that the Irishmen on the battle field had proven up to the challenge. But their gas masks had not - the equipment was unable to cope.

In the first year of the war alone, 80,000 people in Ireland enlisted to fight in the war, half from Ulster and half from the rest of Ireland.

'Ireland and the First World War' is published in hardback by Mercier Press at €29.99.

Irish Independent

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