‘Hopelessly inaccurate’ record of Irish WWI dead criticised

Gathering hears study of national and local archives could give more accurate figure

Re-enactors dressed in British first World War uniforms stage  a parade in Kilkenny city to remember the county’s war dead. Photograph: Ronan McGreevy

Re-enactors dressed in British first World War uniforms stage a parade in Kilkenny city to remember the county’s war dead. Photograph: Ronan McGreevy

 

It is wrong for the Government to rely on the “hopelessly inaccurate” Irish National War Memorial Records (INWMR) to determine how many Irish died in the first World War, according to journalist Kevin Myers.

Mr Myers spent two years examining the records which were compiled in 1922 and list some 49,400 dead. He published his findings in the Irish Times in 1980.

He estimated the true number of Irish dead in the war was around 35,000 rather than 49,400, though he says the figure may now be closer to 40,000.

Last week the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Heather Humphreys announced an initiative to provide for a number of bursaries which will re-examine the records. She admitted they “need correcting and cross-referencing”.

Mr Myers launched the book The Kilkenny War Dead by local historian Tom Burnell which lists 779 dead from the county in the first World War including three nurses.

The figure Mr Burnell has found is 315 more than the 464 dead from Kilkenny listed in the records.

Mr Myers said the impression has been given that the Irish memorial records are “unique and irreplaceable” where he believes there are more useful archives “both national and local, that should be now explored to establish the number of our war-dead”.

He heard the announcement with “some astonishment that the Government was getting a group of students to re-assess Ireland’s memorial records, as if this had not already been done.

“I went through the records in great detail in 1979-80, and I reduced the figure of authentically Irish dead from 49,400 to around 35,000. It was impossible, with the information contained in what was a profoundly flawed archive, to be more precise than that. I presented my findings in an article in the Irish Times in 1980.

“So, there can be no excuse for any contrived ignorance on this issue; the primary work has been done. And now we hear that students are being paid to go to Ypres in order to duplicate the study that I did free of charge in the National Library 35 years ago.”

Mr Myers also complained that his 2,640 word analysis of the memorial records published on November 11th, 1980, is still not in the Irish Times archive.

Before the book launch, a parade to remember the dead from Kilkenny took place through the city this afternoon.

It featured re-enactors dressed in British khaki uniforms from the first World War, military vehicles, a colour party from the Irish army and the Mayor of Kilkenny.

Donal Croghan, chairman of the Kilkenny War Memorial Committee, said such a parade through the streets of an Irish town could not have happened 20 years ago.

Ireland in the past 100 years has had a situation where it was regarded as not fit nor proper to speak about the Great War dead. Since the peace process and the visit of the Queen, people now feel there is now space to discuss their own families and relatives.”

The committee are attempting to raise €100,000 to put a permanent war memorial to the dead from the county in place next year. A designated space has been allocated to it in St Mary’s Hall in Kilkenny city.