Irish casualties in the first World War
Sir, – Reporting on the Government-backed launch of an online version of Ireland’s Memorial Records, Stephen Collins (Home News, January 11th) repeated the official statistic that “49,000 men from the island of Ireland” died in the 1914-18 war. This figure is simply untrue.
In 1979, I began a thorough examination of the Memorial Records, which had originally been compiled by Eva Bernard 60 years before. I found that some 11,007 of the 49,400 dead had not been born in Ireland, and that 7,245 were without a listed birthplace. However, no simple conclusions may be drawn from these raw figures. Willie Redmond, for example, who emphatically was Irish, was born in Liverpool, and Lord Kitchener, who emphatically wasn’t, was born in Co Kerry. Similarly, neither the English John Kipling, son of the poet, killed in action with the Irish Guards in 1915, nor the Irish Tom Kettle, killed in action with the Royal Dublin Fusiliers in 1916, are accorded a birthplace. What muddies the waters considerably is that the Memorial Records also include men from Britain who either served in Irish regiments, or enlisted in British service battalions with the parenthetic (Irish) attached. No authentic Irish connection was required for such enlistment.
Other listings defy analysis, such as those of Demosthenes Guilgaud, died of a heart attack in Canada, in 1919, William Jennings Bryan, died in Colorado Springs 1916, and Richard Smythe, drowned in Jaffa Bay 1919.
Overall, I found that some 31,000 of the dead were born in Ireland, and I concluded that some 35,000 could properly be considered Irish. Other analyses, notably Pat Casey’s, generally – if not in detail – concur with my far lower estimate than the “official” figures. I published my findings in a long article in The Irish Times on November 11th, 1980. Yet, more than 33 years later, the utterly inaccurate figure of circa 49,000 is still being cited. Perhaps one reason for this is that anyone doing a search in The Irish Times online archives for material on the Great War will not find my analysis: page 10 for November 11th, 1980, which contained that article is – quite uniquely in my very extensive experience of the archives – missing in its entirety. How very curious.
The official recycling of statistical falsehood as historical fact comes hard upon the widespread allegation last month that Major Willie Redmond asked not to be buried in a British military cemetery in 1917, in protest at the execution of the 1916 leaders. This utter falsehood, with its calumnious implication that he did not wish to be buried with the men he so gallantly led into battle, has no documentary basis whatever – yet it has now found its way into Wikipedia, with RTÉ News being cited as a reputable source. Innocent students interested in the Irish involvement in the 1914-18 war are now being systematically misled by publicly-funded institutions into believing complete fabrications.
This follows the deplorably one-sided commemorations of the 1913 industrial disputes, tendentiously and inaccurately named “The Lockout”. These differing examples suggest that an officially-supported fiction masquerading as history remains, as always, the Irish narrative of choice. In which case, God help us all come 2016. – Yours, etc,
Editor’s note: Due to a technical error, the page referred to above did not go online. This is being rectified.