The Somme 100 years on: Search the roll call of the Irish dead

A 10-year search came up with a definitive number: 29,464 Irish deaths

By the end of the Battle of the Somme there was 1.2 million casualties and the British army had moved their front line a mere seven miles during the longest battle of World War One. Ronan McGreevy asks 'was it worth it?'. Video: Enda O'Dowd

 

I first began recording the Irish first World War dead in 2006, in the beautiful village of Holycross, Co Tipperary, where I live. It was soon obvious that there were some others who had relations in the village who also perished, and these had to be included.

A road opened up in front of me, a road that had to be travelled. Our heroes must be remembered, and the only way this could be done was to collect all the databases and cross-reference them.

One of them is Ireland’s National War Memorial Records, which was published in 1923, and illustrated by Harry Clarke. It lists 49,400 names who served and has been accepted as the be-all and end-all reference to remember our Irish heroes.

Still, it has a few problems. Every member of the Irish regiments in the British army were included in the nine volumes as being Irishmen, though many of them were English, Scottish or Welsh.

Battle of the Somme casualty list

Yes indeed: every man jack of them was deemed to be Irish. This was ludicrous and had to be addressed. Ten years later, all 26 counties are done.

The criteria: birth in the 26 counties, lived in the 26 counties, next of kin listed in or from the 26 counties, and buried in the 26 counties.

How could this mammoth task of finding out the proper figure for the Irish war dead be done? What have we now that did not exist in 1923, when they were compiled?

Databases, digitised books, online newspaper archives and newspapers on microfiche in local libraries are now in common usage. But they did not exist when the memorial records were being compiled.

My research has found 29,464 Irishmen from what is now this State who died in the first World War. The Irish National War Memorial Records lists 18,946.

We all know the 36th (Ulster) Division suffered some 2,000 dead on the first day of the Somme. My research confirms that the first day of the battle was also the bloodiest day for men from the South – some 467 were killed. This was followed by the first day of the German spring offensive in March 1918 (439).

Ultimately I would like to see a new and accurate book of the Irish war dead to replace the Irish National War Memorial Records. These brave men deserve no less.

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