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The logic of collective sacrifice: Ireland and the British army, 1914–1918

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  11 February 2009

David Fitzpatrick
Trinity College, Dublin


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1 See Henry, Harris, The Irish regiments in the first world war (Cork, 1968), p. 32Google Scholar; Duggan, J. P., A history of the Irish army (Dublin, 1990), p. 328Google Scholar. These estimates are derived from inflated statistics of ‘Irish’ casualties: see David, Fitzpatrick, ‘Militarism in Ireland, 1900–1922’, in Keith, Jeffrey and Thomas, Bartlett (eds.), A military history of Ireland (Cambridge, forthcoming, 1995).Google Scholar

2 In 1911, workers in agriculture accounted for about 11 per cent of all occupied males in Great Britain, but for 54·7 per cent of those in Ireland (including rural ‘general labourers’). A survey of men actively engaged in Irish agriculture, in June 1912, indicated that 69·7 per cent were ‘family’ members rather than hired workers. See Mitchell, B. R. and Phyllis, Deane, Abstract of British historical statistics (Cambridge, 1971 edn), p. 60Google Scholar; David, Fitzpatrick, ‘The disappearance of the Irish agricultural labourer, 1841–1912’, in Irish economic and social history, VII (1980), 87–9.Google Scholar

3 In his innovative study entitled ‘The Royal Munster Fusiliers in the Great War, 1914–19’ (UCD, MA thesis, 1986)Google Scholar, Martin Staunton concludes that ‘Ireland's ignored participation in the war was overwhelmingly an urban experience… The most stark contrast which thus emerges, is the virtually different worlds represented by rural and urban Ireland’ (p. 308).

4 The special position of agricultural workers was also recognized by official attempts to compute the population of men of military age, omitting those whose labour was deemed ‘indispensable’. In statements such as Men of military age in Ireland, in HCP, 1916 [Cd. 8390], xvii, this category included all farmers, and half of the farmers' sons and labourers returned in the 1911 census.

5 Indeed no precise computation is possible, despite compilation of the National Register in 1915, since the official criteria of age, fitness and indispensability were repeatedly altered.

6 While provincial comparisons are based on police returns and national comparisons on army returns, the two series correspond closely for Ireland as a whole (see notes to Table 1).

7 See Winter, J. M., The Great War and the British people (London, 1985), p. 28Google Scholar, for the ratios of voluntary enlistments to men aged 15–49 in 1911. The figures for England and Wales, Scotland, and Ireland, were 0·242, 0·269 and 0·107, respectively.

8 Dooley, Thomas P., ‘Politics, bands and marketing: army recruitment in Waterford City, 1914–15’, in Irish Sword, XVIII, no. 72 (1991), 205–19.Google Scholar

9 Lord, Dunalley (5th baron), Khaki and rifle green (London, 1940), pp 200–1Google Scholar. Enlistment in the months ending 15 March, April, May and June 1916 amounted to 1,600, 1,736, 1,096 and 1,568 men, respectively. The rising occurred during the third of those periods. The revival after the rising was particularly marked in Dublin, and among catholics.

10 Winter, , Great War, pp 33–7Google Scholar; Dewey, P. E., ‘Military recruiting and the British labour force during the first world war’, in Historical Journal, xxvii, no. 1 (1984), 199223CrossRefGoogle Scholar. Winter's analysis up to Feb. 1916 is weakened by the effects of wartime mobility between industrial sectors, while Dewey's choice of July 1916 entails additional distortion from the selective application of conscription to specified ‘groups and classes’.

11 Three months later, on 30 Oct. 1914, the corresponding figures were 7·7, 13·5, 7·1 and 6·0. Statistics refer to insured workers, except in the case of trades-union returns for paper and printing. Regional unemployment proportions are unavailable for other trades. See Board of Trade Labour Gazette, Aug. 1914, pp. 294–5, 301–2; Oct. 1914 pp. 403, 411.

12 See, for example, reports concerning the Sirocco Engineering Works and the Powerloom Tenters' Trade Society, in Belfast News-Letter, 7 Sept. 1914, in Chief Secretary's Office [CSO], Newspaper Cuttings, vol. XL, in NLI.

13 Detailed Irish returns subsequent to Oct. 1914 do not appear in the printed Reports on the state of employment in the United Kingdom in PRO (London), RECO 1/832; or in summaries in the confidential History of the ministry of munitions, PRO (London), MUN 5/321A.

14 If bricks and shipbuilding are excluded, the correlation between Irish enlistment proportions, and the ‘scores’ for the 14 trades given in Table 2, is r = +0·78. This analysis is slightly flawed by auto-correlation, resulting from incorporation of Irish data in the ‘scores’.

15 These analyses apply, though less consistently, to the enlistment rates for workers in the 10,644 ‘small firms’ submitting ‘Z8’ returns, including 194 firms in Ireland (cf. notes to Table 2). The returns covered only one-tenth of the industrial workforce in small firms, and can scarcely bear the weight of disaggregated analysis by region and sector. For ‘All trades’ in small firms, the enlistment proportions were estimated as 8·8 per cent for Ireland and 10·4 per cent for the UK.

16 These scores follow procedures analogous to those specified in the notes to Table 2. The scores for each Labour Exchange Division were as follows: South West 75, East and South East 70, Scotland 63, Wales 60, North 55, West Midlands 50, North West 49, London 44, Ireland 29, Yorkshire 28, East Midlands 22. In the case of small firms, Ireland's score of 25 was the lowest for any region, the highest being 87 for the South West.

17 When compared with unemployment proportions for 31 July 1914 in the other ten Labour Exchange Divisions, the Irish figures cited above topped the league tables for paper and printing (5·5 per cent) and building (6·4 per cent), running second to London in the case of engineering (4·5 per cent). In shipbuilding, the Irish unemployment ratio of 4·4 per cent ranked fifth and fell below the overall proportion for the UK (4·7 per cent). For sources, see note 11.

18 See Philip, Orr, The road to the Somme (Belfast, 1987), p. 53.Google Scholar

19 Officers, drawn disproportionately from the small protestant populations in the south and west, are excluded from these statistics.

20 The correlation between protestant and catholic enlistment proportions (for 32 counties in 1915) is r = +0·57. The surprisingly large catholic components of enlistment from Ulster counties in 1915 reflected, admittedly, the predominance of protestant recruits in 1914.

21 For a conflicting account emphasising widespread collective aversion to recruiting among catholic nationalists, during and even before the war, see Patrick, Callan, ‘Voluntary recruiting for the British army in Ireland during the first world war’ (UCD, PhD thesis, 1984).Google Scholar

22 Staunton, Munster Fusiliers, esp. ch. 1, 3; Martin, Staunton, ‘Kilrush, Co. Clare and the Royal Munster Fusiliers’, in Irish Sword, XVI, no. 65 (1986), 268–72.Google Scholar

23 Spiers, Edward M., ‘The regular army in 1914’, in Beckett, Ian F. W. and Keith, Simpson (eds.), A nation in arms (Manchester, 1985), p. 44Google Scholar; annual occupational returns for soldiers (aged 17 or more) accepted for the regular army after medical examination, in General annual reports on the British army, in HCP. Since most men enlisted at 18 or 19 years, their occupational experience provides uncertain evidence of class affiliation.

24 In 1911, catholics comprised 68·8 per cent of army pensioners, 70·3 per cent of navy pensioners, 73·9 per cent of the Irish population, and 66·0 per cent of the occupied male population not engaged in agriculture. Another return, for 1 Oct. 1913, reveals that catholics comprised 68·3 per cent of Irishmen in both the regular army and the special reserve: CSO, Miscellaneous and Official papers from Room 26, Dublin Castle, parcel 17 (envelope marked ‘1915’), in NAD.

25 If compared with the entire catholic population (1911) rather than the catholic non-agricultural population, catholic reservists remain over-represented in Leinster and Munster, but marginally under-represented in Ulster and Connaught.

26 The correlation (over 32 counties) between reservists and recruits enlisted in 1914 (as a proportion of occupied males not engaged in agriculture, 1911), is r = +0·48.

27 Recorded recruitment to the regular army in Ireland in the 50 years between 1864 and 1913 was barely 150,000, little more than the number raised in the 51 months of war. For officers, however, the influence of family tradition in encouraging wartime service was undoubtedly strong.

28 The ratio of Ulster Volunteers to protestant recruits throughout Ireland was 48·7 per cent. These statistics are based on the simplifying assumptions that all Ulster Volunteers were protestant and all Irish Volunteers catholic. There may have been a few hundred non-catholics in the nationalist force, in addition to the numerous retired army officers who briefly became organizers in autumn 1914.

29 Furthermore, the Irish Volunteers at their peak were far more densely organized in Ulster than elsewhere, comprising almost as high a proportion of catholic occupied males as the Ulster Volunteers did of protestants.

30 Belfast Mews-Letter, 15 Dec. 1914, in CSO, Newspaper cuttings, vol. XLVII, in NLI; Church of Ireland Gazette, LVIII (20 Oct. 1916), 747.Google Scholar

31 Henry, Hanna, The Pals of Suvla Bay (Dublin, 1916)Google Scholar. This analysis is based on Hanna's brief biographies of 316 ‘Pals’.

32 The charge of the London Irish at Loos (Sept. 1915) was celebrated for the football which was kicked from man to man before scoring a ‘goal’ in the first line of German trenches: Michael, MacDonagh, The Irish at the front (London, 1916), ch. 10.Google Scholar

33 See the theses by Staunton and Callan, already cited.

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