Uneven assault on Irish first world war efforts

Peter Berresford Ellis reviews Ireland and the Great War: ‘A War to Unite Us All’ , Adrian Gregory and Senia Paseta (eds), Manchester University Press, pbk £14.99

I WAS disappointed when I began to read this title. It is a doubtless a good collection of essays on some aspects of Irish involvement and attitudes in the 1914-18 War. But it does not have the broad sweep approach promised by the title.

It is singularly lacking in a lot of basic information, being reflections on issues of continuity and change within Irish historiography and analysis of how the experience of this war has contributed to entrench unionist and nationalist attitudes.

It is a book for academics who already know their background and as such it is doubtless a fine addition for the university library shelf.

I was somewhat bemused that the only tables about Irish casualties were of the ascendancy under the quaint heading of ‘nobles’ and ‘nobles at war’.

In vain did I look for figures of ordinary soldiers killed, numbers who enlisted and the high price men and women of all religions in Ireland paid in that terrible conflict.

There is no mention of the 27 Irish soldiers shot at dawn, some under age, for silly breaks of discipline — one young boy was executed for refusing to wear a soaking wet hat! Even if one was going to concentrate on ascendancy families and their contribution there is not even a reference to the Royal Flying Corps, either as a unit or the vast number of Irish pilots it attracted to its ranks.

The Irish produced 38 of top RFC fighter ‘aces’ who won several VCs and a host of other decorations. The Irish produced some 45 VCs during the conflict, and most of them were certainly not from ascendancy families.

There is no mention of the casualty figures of the ‘other ranks’ and the impact of their families.

I look forward to a book with information rather than opinions. Once we get the facts, we can contemplate our attitudes to them.

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