World War I: Ireland


Figure 1.--The British Government before the crisis in the Balkans occurred was wrestling with the thorny issue of Home Rule for Ireland. Here is a page from "The Graphic" (March 26, 1914). The graphic was a British illustrated news magazine. Notice the boys parading with the soldiers at the top of the page.

Ireland at the time of World War I was part of the United Kingdom. At the time that the crisis developed in the Balkans, the Goverment was considering the Irish question. Parlialment was considering the Third Home Rule Bill. The Government decided to postpone consideration until after the War. Most believe that the war would be a short one. Ireland at the time was divided between Nationalists and Unionists. When Britain declared war (August 1914), both Nationalists and Unionists that the best course was to lyally support Britain. The common logic was that by fighting with Britain, they would be best situated to gain support for their position after the War. The Irish were recruited and eventually drafted for military service just like the English as British subjects. Thousands of Irishmen enlisted and many were mobilized in the British Army's 10th and 16th divisions. Members of the Nationalist Irish Volunteer Force (IVF) joined the war alongside the British. There were dissenters. A relatively small splinter group objected to any cooperation woth the British. To stress their loyalty, the majority of the IVF renamed themselves the National Volunteer Force (NVF). This left the splinter group in control of the IVF. Members of the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) also joined the British war effort. They were mobilized separately from NVF. The UVF men and other Unionists were organized as the 36th Ulster Division. This division was heavily engaged on the Somme (July 1916). The Somme was one of the most costly engagements fought by the British Army. Losses were dreadful. Out of the 10,000 men of the 36th Ulster there were 5,000 casualties. The sacrifice of the 26th Ulster demonstated the loyalty of the Irish unionists. This affected British attitudes to home rule. An estimated 250,000 Irish men from north and south served in World War I. They came together during the Messines offensive (1917). As many as 50,000 Irish died during the war. The Easter Rebellion was staged in Dublin (1916). Irish Nationalists like most Europeans had thought the War would quickly be over, at which time the question of home rule could be taken up again. When the War continued throughout 1915 and into 1916, it ws clear that the War could continue for some time. The Irish Republican Brotherhood and the splinter IVF decided to tak a bold action against against British rule in Ireland. They planned to take advantage of the fact that the British Army as in France with only a small force in Ireland. The Easter Rising was mastermined by Patrick Pearse, Thomas MacDonagh, and Joseph Plunkett. Roger Casement was to obtain German weapons. The British intercepted the weapons, but the Rising occurred as planned on Easter Monday (April 24, 1916). Although unsuccessful it was the first action that would eventually lead to Irish independence after the War.

Constitutional Status

Ireland at the time of World War I was part of the United Kingdom, along with England, Scotland, and Wales as several smaller units.

Home Rule

At the time that the crisis developed in the Balkans, the Goverment was considering the Irish question. Parlialment was considering the Third Home Rule Bill. The Act would be the first law ever passed by the British Parliament that sought to establish devolved government in any part of the United Kingdom. The implementation of both it and the also highly controversial Welsh Church Act 1914 was postponed by the British Government for at least 12 months with the outbreak of the World War I. Most believed the War and the postponementb of home rules would be just a matter of months. Subsequent developments in Ireland resulted in additional postponements, meaning that the Act never actually came into force. After the War, the Third Home Rule Bill would be superseded by a fourth home rule bill, formally called the Government of Ireland Act 1920.

Outbreak of War (August 1914)

Austria-Hungary was determined to punish Serbia for the assaination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. When Austria-Hungary with German backing declared war on Serbia, Russia was committed to defend the Serbs--fellow Slavs. Kaiser Wilhelm and Tsar Nicholas exchanged telegrams, but ther personal relationship could not restrain the developing tragedy. The Tsar ordered a mobilization. France also began to mobilize its troops. Russia had the largest army in Europe and once moibilized posed a forbidable danger to Germany. Germany thus felt impelled to strike at France before Russia could mobilize. Germany declaring war on Russia (August 1) and France (August 3). The strike at France followed the Schlieffen Plan which meant invading Belgium. German armies crossed the Belgian birder (Aufudy 4). This brought Britain, which had treaty obligations to Belgium, into the War. Britain may have entered the War with out Germany invasion of Belgium, but the invasion provided both the causus bellum and popular support for war. Germany's decession to support Austria's desire to punish Serbia turned a Balkans crisis into a major European war. Germany probably would have prevailed in a war with France and Russia. The invasion of Belgium provided tactical advantages, but at the cost of brining Britain and the Empire with its immenense military and material resources into the War. After the War, the Allies demanded that Germany accept the guilt for launching the War. Some authors have laid the blame for the War largely on Germany. [Fischer] Other historians are more inclined to ascribe the blame to other countries as well seeing war in most instances as a reciprocal event. [Strachan]

Domestic Division

Ireland at the time was divided between Nationalists and Unionists. Independence was not the issue, rather it was home rule within the United Kingdom. Parliament was expected to pass a Home Rule bill in 1914. The Unionists were primarily concentrated in Ulster and Protestants. They formed an armed militia, the Ulster Volunteers (1913). to try to either prevent the implementation of Home Rule or if that failed to separate Ulster from the Home Rule settlement. Nationalists who were mostly majority Catholics responsded by forming a rival militia the Irish Volunteers. Their stated objective was to "defend the constitutional rights of the Irish people" and unstated was the desire to put pressure on Britain to act on the Home Rule bill. It looked for a time that the two militias might start fighting each other. It was at this time that the Germans invaded Belgium and the British Government declared war on Germany (August 1914). Although deeply divided, both Nationalists and Unionists decided that the best course was to loyally support Britain in the War. A small radical element desiring indeperndence had little support at the onset of the War. The common logic was that by fighting with Britain, they would be best situated to gain support for their position after the War. The Irish were recruited and eventually drafted for military service just like the English as British subjects. Just as in England, there was considerable support for Britain and the War. Many has romantic notions of war and no one really understood the terrible casualties to come.

Irish Units

Thousands of Irishmen enlisted and many were mobilized in the British Army's 10th and 16th divisions. Eventually three Irish divisions were raised. Many other Irish men served in other British units. Members of the Nationalist Irish Volunteer Force (IVF) joined the war alongside the British. There were dissenters. A relatively small splinter group objected to any cooperation woth the British. To stress their loyalty, the majority of the IVF renamed themselves the National Volunteer Force (NVF). This left the splinter group in control of the IVF. Members of the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) also joined the British war effort. They were mobilized separately from NVF. The UVF men and other Unionists were organized as the 36th Ulster Division.

Easter Rebellion (April 1916)

The Easter Rebellion was staged in Dublin (1916). Irish Nationalists like most Europeans had thought the War would quickly be over, at which time the question of home rule could be taken up again. When the War continued throughout 1915 and into 1916, it ws clear that the War could continue for some time. The Irish Republican Brotherhood and the splinter IVF decided to tak a bold action against against British rule in Ireland. They planned to take advantage of the fact that the British Army as in France with only a small force in Ireland. The Easter Rising was mastermined by Patrick Pearse, Thomas MacDonagh, and Joseph Plunkett. Roger Casement was to obtain German weapons. The British intercepted the weapons, but the Rising occurred as planned on Easter Monday (April 24, 1916). Although unsuccessful it was the first action that would eventually lead to Irish independence after the War. The British quickly put it dowm. Almost 100 men were shot after nominal trials. One leader they failed to shoot was Michael Collins. The British wrongly blamed Sinn Féin for the rising (it had actually been the Irish Republican Brotherhood). Some authors believe that the ferocity in which the rising was supressed and the executions doomed the British presence in Ireland. It may well have been the case that even if the British has reacted more moderately that in the ens it would have made little difference.

The Somme (July 1916)

The 36th Ulster Division was heavily engaged on the Somme (July 1916). The Somme was one of the most costly engagements fought by the British Army. Losses were dreadful. Out of the 10,000 men of the 36th Ulster there were 5,000 casualties. The sacrifice of the 26th Ulster demonstated the loyalty of the Irish unionists. This affected British attitudes to home rule.

Messines (1917)

An estimated 250,000 Irish men from north and south served in World War I. They came together during the Messines offensive (1917).

Casualties

As many as 50,000 Irish died during the war.







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Created: 11:17 PM 3/19/2006
Last updated: 7:55 PM 9/17/2011