Friday, October 04, 2013

Irish Volunteers?


Jeremy Paxman

In a recent interview with Seán O'Rourke on RTE radio, which discussed his new book, Great Britain's Great War, Jeremy Paxman remarked on the large number of Irishmen who died in WWI and said that they were all volunteers.

Well, some of them were and some of them weren't.

While conscription was not enforced in Ireland, despite it being then part of the UK, those Irishmen who lived in England were liable to be conscripted.

Lyn Ebenezer, in his book on Frongoch, relates how the British Authorites were trying very hard to determine which of the 1916 Rising prisoners had actually been living in England before the Rising, so that they could conscript them. Fellow IRA prisoners declined to cooperate in this exercise.

My Granny sent my Uncle Willie, her eldest son, over to London to bring back his brother Michael, who was working in the Post Office, for fear that he would be conscripted and lose his life in the war.

I don't know whether this was before or after Michael's brother, John, died on the Somme in 1916, and I don't know whether John was conscripted or might even have joined up before the war. He was working in the UK civil service in London and ended up in the Civil Service Rifles.

I did have a grand-uncle, John, who did actually volunteer in Dublin in 1915, but as this is reputed to have been in a pub and the British Army were virtually bullying people to join up, I'm not sure how much of an actual volunteer he was. I'd say he got a shock when the call up came in the post shortly afterwards. However, he was already a casualty of sorts at that stage, because, as soon as his father found he had joined up, he disinherited him, kicking him and his wife and three children out of the "company house" in Rialto, and banishing them across the Liffey to the Northside (Oxmantown Rd.). John had been in line to take over his father's thriving shoemaking business in James's St., on his father's imminent retirement.

John was wounded, but survived the war, and subsequently had the pleasure of getting to know Bono's mother's family in Oxmantown.

Incidentally, Seán O'Rourke's interview was excellent. It was such a welcome change from The Plank showing off, to have a proper interview where the content is actually teased out of the subject, rather than being flaunted by the presenter on foot of his pre-programme briefing.

O'Rourke actually let Paxman talk, and he was interesting. However, he came through as a right patronising bollix at the end of the interview. Good on Seán for keeping his cool. You can listen to the interview here.


Seán O'Rourke

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