Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The First Irish Conscript (1914)

I found this gem while looking through Trinity's DRIS. It depicts in comic tone what would be needed for the British government to implement conscription in Ireland.  Although this card purportedly dates from 1914, it makes sense to me that it was probably produced later on in the war when conscription became a big issue.

At the outbreak of the conflict the various political factions in Ireland lined up for and against joining the fight. Irish Parliamentary Party leader, John Redmond, who a couple of years earlier had organised a group of Volunteers, supported it, as did Irish unionists such as Edward Carson and his Ulster Volunteer Force. Many Irishmen of different political hue and of every religious background volunteered to fight. 10,000s of them never came home again. The 36th (Ulster) Division alone, lost over 5,500 dead, injured and missing, in only two days during the Battle Of The Somme.

However, a growing element of nationalists in Ireland were against the whole enterprise and preferred to plan military action that would liberate Ireland than fight to liberate Belgium as was the main draw for many Irish Catholics. The split in Irish nationalism at the time was beautifully and poignantly captured by Co. Tyrone poet and singer, Felix Kearney. In his Eamon Roe, an elderly man recalls a fallen friend from his youth who chose a different path:

1914 and the German threat and England went to war, 
"we can't leave Belgium to their fate!" the cry went far and near,
I joined the British Army then but Eamon wouldn't go,
"there's cleaner work for Irishmen at home" said Eamon Roe.

Although serving in one of the various arms of the British military was a career option (and remains so to this day) for many young Irish people, there exists an extensive body of folk songs sung in Ireland that look on signing up and serving in a negative or humorous light. Arthur McBride, Mrs. McGrath, and Ewan MacColl's British Army are among the better ones but there are a host of others.

No comments:

Post a Comment