Thursday 18 January 2018

'Ireland at War: the heartbreaking story'

Ciaran Byrne

On Saturday, free inside the ‘Irish Independent’ we bring you first of two unmissable magazines chronicling our national journey and World War 1, called ‘Ireland at War’.

Building over two Saturdays into a stunning 64-page history, the magazines explain the reasons for the war, Ireland’s role in it and the awful cost in human terms.

It’s only now, with the distance of time, that we are able to appreciate and understand the magnitude of the tragedy that ravaged Europe.

With contributions from top historians,  poignant archive photographs and the family stories of ‘Irish Independent’ readers,  the supplements are a must for history buffs, and a learning tool for young and older readers.

Memorials to World War 1 are dotted all across Ireland. Some have been forgotten, others are regularly cared for and maintained. This is a memorial outside th town of Bandon, Co Cork. Picture for the Irish Independent: Clare Keogh


Some of the material we have gathered is featured here on  - with extra photographs and video interviews between our writers and contributors such as Professor Diarmaid Ferriter of UCD’s School of History.

The conflict saw 250,000 Irish people sign up. Official estimates put the number of Irish dead at 49,000.

It’s a stark, heart-breaking number. All died in brutal four year-period, mown down in their prime on mainly French and Belgian battlefields.

It’s almost impossible to imagine a bloody conflict with such a high rate of attrition and very difficult for young people in Ireland today to grasp the scale of the human losses.

To put it in context, the North’s Troubles claimed almost 3,000 lives over a roughly 30 year-period.

ONLINE Conscription poster B.jpg
A 1914 poster urging Irishmen to enlist. Courtesy National Library of Ireland.



The first world war wiped out an entire generation of young men, the flower of youth extinguished. 16 million people, including civilians, died and more than 20 million people were wounded.

The war was fought of course on a huge scale and the armies involved were incredibly vast, staffed by millions of conscripts, and in the case of Ireland, many willing recruits.

They came from all over the country and signed up for a host of different reasons; some enlisted to escape grinding poverty, others to maintain family honour and the simple belief that German aggression had to be faced down.

Irishwomen too played a prominent role, with many operating close to the frontlines as nurses and medics.

ONLINE Memorials D book.jpg
One of eight Harry Clarke illustrated rememberance books in the Book Room at the War Memorial Gardens in Islandbridge, Dublin. The books list all of the Irish dead from World War 1, estimated at a staggering 49,000 people. Discover more about the Irish death toll with John Meagher in part two of 'Ireland at War', free inside this Saturday's Irish Independent. Pix Ronan Lang/Feature File


Though the Easter Rising was just two years away, it’s clear many people were relatively comfortable with Ireland’s role within the United Kingdom.

Dublin was regarded as the second city of Empire and many nationalist MPs, including John Redmond, actively encouraged Irishmen to enlist in the British army. His own brother, Willie, was killed in France in 1915.

After the civil war and independence, it became difficult for Ireland’s WW1 veterans, stigmatized and shell-shocked, to even talk about the war or even acknowledge their suffering, such was the level of anti-British feeling.

As the centenary of the war’s outbreak approaches, that has  thankfully changed and people are ready to share and discover the stories of those who took part in the war.


Don't Miss part one, free inside this Saturday's Independent, with part two on Saturday 17th May.

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