Wednesday 12 December 2018

Keeping alive the memories of the Irish who perished in this terrible conflict

Editor's Letter

The memorial plaque to Francis Ledwidge at his cottage in Slane.
The memorial plaque to Francis Ledwidge at his cottage in Slane.

Ciaran Byrne

When the guns fell silent in Europe on November 11, 1918, four years of abject human slaughter came to an end.

As the smoke of battle finally cleared, the staggering, calamitous cost of World War I became clear.

Almost 20 million people had died, more than that number were injured and maimed, and Europe had been fractured beyond repair.

They called it 'war to end all wars'. But the seeds had already been sown for another conflict that would erupt just 20 years later.

By the close of World War I, Ireland too had changed, and changed utterly.

The Easter Rising in 1916 had provided a violent backdrop to the war at home and the execution of its leaders did much to harden public opinion against British rule.

By 1918, the mood for breaking the link with Britain had become a national movement and the War of Independence was about to commence.

For the returning Irish veterans of World War I, it was difficult, in many cases impossible, to talk about their shocking experiences fighting in the British army.

People at home had their own problems – unemployment, poverty, and their own political beliefs. There was little appetite for returning soldiers, especially those who had worn British uniforms.

As we discover in this concluding part of 'Ireland at War', the men who returned home faced great hostility and varying degrees of care as they tried to recover from their terrible physical and mental injuries.

Of course, they were lucky to return home. For many families, the arrival of the postman at their door meant a terse note informing them that their sons had been killed.


In these pages, Anita Guidera takes a look at the wills and final letters of some Irish soldiers who never made it back.

We also explore how the press reported the war, including the Irish Independent's coverage, and we take a look at the books and films made about the conflict.

One of the most moving aspects of World War I was the emergence of several war poets who strived to make sense of the carnage unfolding around them.

They included Irishman Francis Ledwidge and Wilfred Owen and their work is examined in this issue by John Boland.

All across Ireland, memorials exist to World War I and the men and women who took part in it. We have explored some of the monuments and talk to those who maintain them to this day.

Almost 100 years after the war began, the memories of the 49,000 Irish people who died are being kept very much alive.


See our dedicated  World War 1 section here.

Irish Independent Supplement

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