Number of Irish in both wars unknown

Thousands of Irishmen living in Britain at the outbreak of war also signed up

Trinity historian Dr Steven O’Connor, the author of Irish Officers in the British Army 1922-1945, talks about Irish involvement in the D-Day landings. Video: Ronan McGreevy

 

It remains uncertain exactly how many Irish from what is now the Republic fought in both world wars but what is not disputed is that the figure is in the hundreds of thousands.

Much scholarship and conjecture has gone into the figures, but a definitive figure is elusive.

According to historian Richard Doherty, whose book Irish Men and Women in the Second World War is regarded as one of the defining texts on the subject, 78,826 service personnel in the British armed forces came from what was then Éire and 52,174 from the North, although many who enlisted in the North would have crossed the Border.

Trinity historian Dr Steven O’Connor, who has just published the book Irish Officers in the British Forces 1922-1945, estimates that 70,000 southern Irishmen served in British uniform during the second World War.

Mr Doherty has calculated that 4,468 service personnel from the island of Ireland were killed in the war.

A different figure has been put forward by Scottish academic Dr Yvonne McEwan from the University of Edinburgh.

A roll of honour listing 7,507 Irish men and women who died while serving in the British, Commonwealth and Dominion Forces during the second World War was presented to Trinity College library in 2009. It comprised 3,617 names from the Republic and 3,890 from the North. However, since it was made, other relatives have come forward and the total figure for Ireland is now estimated at 9,100 combat dead.

Part of the U

K Even more served and died in the first World War ,when Ireland was still a part of the U

K. At the outbreak of war in 1914 there were 28,000 Irish-born regular soldiers and 30,000 reservists, compromising almost 10 per cent of the British army. In addition, 116,972 men from Ireland signed up for Kitchener’s army during the war. It is estimated that when those who served in the navy and air force are included, the figure is more than 200,000.

Thousands of Irishmen who were living in Britain at the outbreak of war also signed up, and thousands more fought with the US, Canadian, Australian, South African and New Zealand armed forces.

A figure of 49,000 Irish dead in the first World War is often cited, based on the Irish memorial rolls 1914-18, but this figure is erroneous.

It is based on those who served in Irish regiments. However, many of those dead were British recruits who were drafted to make up the numbers when enlistment started to decline in Ireland, especially after the Easter Rising.