A poster using John Redmond's image to encourage enlistment in Ireland

Consider this. While John Redmond and his Irish Parliamentary Party colleagues paraded the length of Ireland to recruit soldiers for an ‘Irish Brigade’ of the British Army in the belief that Home Rule had already been guaranteed, the Secret Elite, who controlled Asquith’s government and the upper echelons of the British Army [1] had determined that neither would happen.[2]

Their influence over senior appointments in the British Army was virtually absolute and inside that special coterie of military commanders, Anglo-Irishmen were dominant. Field Marshal Lord Frederick Roberts, whose father was a native of county Waterford, had nominally retired from office in 1905 but in reality his imposing influence over military appointments continued unabated. [3]  He was also President of the National Service League which advocated four years of compulsory military training for every man aged between 18 and 30. [4]

Fellow members included his personal friend, Lord Alfred Milner with whom he frequently shared platforms. Sir Henry Wilson, Commandant of the Staff College at Camberley and Director of Military Operations from 1911 onwards was another very influential Irishman.[5]  He was born in Longford and his family claimed to have come to Ireland with William of Orange. Sir John French, Commander in Chief of the British Expeditionary Force was of Anglo-Irish descent and Kitchener himself, resplendent as Field Marshal and Secretary of State for War, was raised in Ballylongford in County Kerry. They wore their ‘Irishness’ as it suited their purpose, but every one considered the Irish National Volunteers with deep suspicion. Kitchener is said to have regarded them as ‘ rebels in sheep’s clothing’. [6] These senior commanders had colluded with Lord  Milner, Sir Edward Carson and Andrew Bonar Law to protect the Ulster cause from 1912 -1914. [7] When it came to Ireland, they were not impartial guardians of the nation.

The War - Irish Poster underlining John Redmond's commitment

Desperate to impress the British Establishment that Ireland would play her part loyally in defence of Belgium, and concerned that she would be dishonoured if the Nationalists did not support the war against Germany, Redmond went to meet Kitchener at the War Office as early as 6 August, 1914. [8] His reception was cold and friendless. [9] No-one took up Redmond’s generous offer that his Volunteers should defend the island’s coasts and the first of many opportunities to treat Ireland with a new found confidence and respect was rejected. [10] Much more was to follow. The preferential treatment which the Ulstermen had always enjoyed from the British State continued to manifest itself, especially in the army.

Prime minister Asquith appeared to promise a new approach when he addressed a great rally at the Mansion House in Dublin on 25 September. His speech was recorded over two pages of The Times, and the impression he gave promised that there would soon be an Irish Division in the South to match the Ulster Division in the North. He declared: ‘We all want to see an Irish Brigade or better still an Irish Army Corps…Don’t be afraid that by joining the colours they will lose their identity and become absorbed in some invertebrate mass, or, what is perhaps equally repugnant, be artificially distributed into units which have no nation cohesion or character’. [11] Clearly he had not discussed this matter with Kitchener who was prejudiced against Home Rule and would not countenance a distinctive Irish division with its own badge and colours, based on the Irish Volunteers.

Tyneside Irish 'Pals' Battalion Poster

Indeed Irishmen enlisting in mainland Britain who wanted their identity to be acknowledged in some tangible way were snubbed in like vein. [12] Despite this, Irishmen flocked to the standard in places like Tyneside where four Irish  ‘pals’ battalions were raised as part of the Northumberland Fusiliers. [13]  An official request from Redmond that at least one of these battalions be trained in Ireland to encourage recruitment and pride, was summarily refused. [14]  Kitchener believed, as did the Secret Elite cabal which had pushed for his appointment,  [15] that if the Volunteers were trained, armed and kept together in coherent units, there would be civil war once the crusade against Germany was over, with no advantage to Ulster.

These same arguments were not applied to Carson’s Ulster Volunteers. They were treated with distinct preference and in consequence the Ulster Volunteers metamorphosed into the 36th (Ulster)  Division with their own distinctive uniform and badges. Not since Cromwell’s ironsides had a military force been united by such political unity and religious fervour. [16] It was the status quo default, just one more injustice piled upon centuries of injustice.

And herein lay the reason why those few Irishmen who were not duped by the lure of London promises and spoke out against war, whose numbers grew slowly but inexorably through 1915, began to realise that the British Establishment had no intention of delivering a united Ireland once war was ended. Ireland (excluding Ulster) was being played as a fool, led by the nose with false promise and spurious argument. What was the point of fighting for Catholic Belgium when Catholic Ireland was still part and parcel of the British Empire? Why were Irishmen fighting for the rights of small nations, while the rights of the common man in the South were considered inferior to his counterpart in the North?

After the doubt came the hurt. Ireland had a strong military tradition stretching back beyond the sixteenth century. When Great Britain went to war there were approximately 20,000 Irishmen serving in the regular British Army and another 30,000 in the first line of defence. About 80,000 enlisted in Ireland in the first year of the war, around half of whom came from Ulster. Emigrant Irishmen enlisted in the armies of Australia, New Zealand, Canada and South Africa. [17]  The Irish went to war in huge numbers on behalf of the British Empire in the belief that they were fighting for civilisation and a just cause – and, in the South, that the Home Rule was part of that just cause. Irish regiments fought as vital components of the British Expeditionary Force. Spread across all the major regiments of note, Irish loyalty to King and Empire was consequently ignored by contemporary historians. Only the 36th (Ulster) Division retained its identity; the sacrifice of the soldiers from the South was intentionally suppressed.

Irish troops at Suvla Bay in Gallipoli

The calamitous Gallipoli Campaign of 1915 has been dissected in previous blogs  Everyone who was sacrificed in the disgraceful, half-hearted and callous attack on the Dardanelles that was deliberately set up to fail, [18] deserves to be recognised as a victim of disingenuous British foreign policy. However, the court historians have focused their attention and approbation on the Anzacs – the unbloodied troops from Australia and New Zealand – with scant mention of the many Irishmen who fought and died there. The 1st Battalion of the Royal Dublin, Munster and Inniskilling Fusiliers suffered enormous casualties at the initial landings at Cape Helles in April. In the second major assault at Suvla Bay the new service battalions of the Irish regiments were sacrificed to no advantage with appalling loss. [19] That their artillery had been sent to France and the men arrived without maps or coherent orders was, sadly, par-for-the-course from the second-rate British commanders sent to oversee the disaster. [20]

The studied down-playing of the thousands of Irishmen slain or maimed in the horror of Gallipoli was truly ignorant and inexcusable. Basically they were taken for granted, as were all the troops condemned to a horrendous fate. Despite their immense loss, the British State ignored the extent of the Irish contribution in Gallipoli. A letter to The Times in April 1916 complained that Commander in Chief, Sir Ian Hamilton’s despatches ( London Gazette no. 29429 ) were unaccountably misprinted such that the contributions of the 5&6 Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, the 6 Royal Irish Fusiliers and the 6&7 Royal Dublin Fusiliers were omitted. [21] Sad, and unkind as that ‘mistake’ was, it paled into insignificance when the vital contributions made by the Irish (and other British) divisions were all but ignored at the special service held in Westminster Abbey to hail the magnificent contribution from the Australian and New Zealand troops, the Anzacs in ‘the high cause of Freedom and honour’.

King George V attends Westminster Abbey Service for Anzac troops sacrificed at Gallipoli

In the presence of the King and Queen and the most senior members of the Secret Elite including Lord Milner, Andrew Bonar Law and A. J. Balfour, every Anzac division and brigade was named individually and the imperial stamp of absolute approval was cemented by the Dean of Westminster with the words ‘ In future the sons of our Empire will seek to emulate the imperishable renown of their daring and bravery.’ [22]

What of the ‘imperishable renown’ of the 10th Dublins, yet another  ‘Pals battalion’ sacrificed at Gallipoli. Within two days of their landing, seventy-five percent of that gallant regiment was destroyed. [23] How did the widows of Dublin feel when everything that might arouse pride in Ireland was ignored or suppressed? Their dead were little more than spent cannon-fodder.

And still John Redmond and his Home Rulers clung to the belief that this time Asquith’s Liberals would not let Ireland down. Had they not placed Ireland firmly inside the British Empire? But Asquith’s grip on parliament was beginning to unravel. A Coalition Government was announced in May 1915 and its membership should have sounded a shrill alarm to the Home Rulers. British newspapers hailed the new non-party Cabinet for its inclusive strength, though John Redmond decided not to accept Asquith’s offer of a minor post. Given the prominent inclusion of leading figures from the Ulster campaign to oppose Home Rule, men who had openly defied the law and threatened a breakaway government in Belfast, he had no option. How could the appointment of Sir Edward Carson to the post of Attorney-General, of F.E. Smith to Solicitor-General and James Henry Campbell, a member of Carson’s provisional government, to the post of Attorney-General of Ireland [24] spell anything other than the bending of Westminster’s knee to Ulster? How ironic that British justice was placed in the hands of men who had been openly prepared to defy that rule of law [25] by raising and arming an illegal private army in Ulster [26] and taking Britain to the brink of civil war.

The Cabinet Redmond would not join because of its predominantly Unionist weighting.

Others too should have given cause for concern. Andrew Bonar Law, Leader of the Conservatives and staunch defender of the Ulster cause, was promoted to Secretary of the Colonies, and several key associates of the Secret Elite were also given high office. Walter Long, the man who had passed on the cheque to facilitate the purchase of UVF guns, became President of the Local Government Board. [27]  A J Balfour, who claimed to have ‘made’ Carson, in that he raised him from ‘a simple Dublin barrister’ in 1887 to Solicitor General in his own government of 1900-1906, [28] took over at the Admiralty while Lord Milner’s friend, Lord Selborne, became President of the Board of Agriculture. Men who had stood at Ulster’s right hand, Lords Landsdowne and Curzon, walked into this new government. In lesser but still important posts, Milner’s proteges, Lord Robert Cecil and Arthur Steel-Maitland, were appointed Under-Secretaries at the Foreign Office and Colonial Office. [29] Asquith’s coalition government had assumed the mantle of a pro-unionist cabal dominated by the imperialist ant-Irish Secret Elite. Effectively, it was a bloodless coup.

Can you wonder at the doubt that grew in the hearts of that small minority of Irishmen who could not accept the road down which John Redmond had led the nation? The impressive propaganda of an Empire fighting for the rights of small nations rang hollow. Even from within the ranks of the conservative Catholic Church in Ireland, voices publicly expressed these doubts. Something had to give. Who would take a stand?

[1] Gerry Docherty and Jim Macgregor, Hidden History, The Secret Origins of the First World War, pp. 194-202.

[2] Pat Walsh, The Great Fraud of 1914-18, p. 22.

[3] Docherty and Macgregor, Hidden History, pp. 195-197.

[4] Mathew C Hendley, Organised Patriotism and the Crucible of War, p.12.

[5] Keith Jeffery, Field Marshal Sir Henry Wilson, A Political Soldier,  pp. 74-76.

[6] Trevor Royle, The Kitchener Enigma, p. 272.

[7] Jeffery, Field Marshal Sir Henry Wilson, pp. 118-9.

[8] Peter Simkins, Kitchener’s Army: The Raising of the New Armies, 1914-1916, pp. 113-4.

[9] Royle, The Kitchener Enigma, p. 272.

[10] Freeman’s Journal, 2 September 1914.

[11] The Times, p.10, 26 September 1914.

[12] Royle, The Kitchener Enigma, p. 272.

[13] Matt Brosnan, The Pals Battalions of the First World War, Imperial War Museum at http://www.iwm.org.uk/history/the-pals-battalions-of-the-first-world-war .

[14] Hansard House of Commons Debate, 18 October 1916, vol. 86 cc581-696.

[15] A M Gollin, Proconsul in Politics, p. 240.

[16] Howard Green, Kitchener’s Army, Army Quarterly, April 1966, vol LXXXXII, no.1, p. 93.

[17]http://www.taoiseach.gov.ie/eng/Historical_Information/1916_Commemorations/Irish_Soldiers_in_the_First_World_War.html

[18] Gallipoli 1, The Enduring Myth, blog posted on this site on 11 February 2015.

[19] taoiseach.gov.ie/ …/Irish_Soldiers_in_the_First_World_War

[20] Gallipoli 17, The Blame Game Begins, blog posted on this site on 17 April 2015.

[21] Everard Wyrall, author of ‘Europe in Arms’, letter to the Times, 22 April 1916, p.3.

[22] The Times 26 April, 1916 page 2.

[23] Hansard House of Commons Debate, 18 October 1916, vol. 86 cc581-696.

[24] Diarmaid Coffey, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/32265,

[25] Brian P Murphy, Patrick Pearse and the Lost Republican Ideal, p. 45.

[26] Pat Walsh, The Great Fraud of 1914-18, p. 25.

[27] Docherty and Macgregor, Hidden History, p. 311.

[28] Carroll Quigley, The Anglo-American Establishment, p. 176.

[29]  Ibid., p. 141.