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Whose Country, Whose Soldiers, Whose Responsibility? First World War Ex-Servicemen and the Development of the Irish Free State, 1923–1939

  • SHANNON MONAGHAN (a1)

Abstract

How new states dealt with minority populations and developed (or failed to develop) strong and secure government institutions are significant research areas in the history of states born in the aftermath of the First World War. This article examines how Irish First World War veterans served as transitional figures during the state-building phase of the Irish Free State in the 1920s and 1930s. Though they are often presented as categorically maligned or forgotten victims of a period of rising nationalism, this article argues that the ex-servicemen, despite the imperial legacies they represented, were popularly supported during the 1920s and early 1930s, and even served as vehicles through which the Free State cemented its stability and defined its independence and obligations in the international and domestic arenas.

La manière dont les nouveaux états ont traité leurs populations minoritaires et ont mis en place (ou non) des institutions gouvernementales solides et stables constitue un domaine de recherche important pour l’histoire des états nés dans la foulée de la Première Guerre mondiale. Cet article examine la manière dont les vétérans irlandais de la Grande Guerre ont servi de figures de transition lors de la phase de construction de l’État libre d’Irlande, dans les années vingt et trente. On présente souvent ces vétérans comme des victimes extrêmement calomniées ou oubliées d’une période de montée du nationalisme. Mais selon l’auteur, même si les anciens soldats représentaient l’empire britannique, ils ont bénéficié dans les années vingt et au début des années trente du soutien populaire, au point de servir d’intermédiaires dans les efforts de l’État libre pour renforcer sa stabilité et définir son indépendance et ses obligations à l’échelle nationale et internationale.

Der Umgang mit Minderheiten und der Aufbau starker, zuverlässiger staatlicher Institutionen (oder dessen Scheitern) zählen zu den wichtigen Forschungsschwerpunkten in der Geschichte der neuen Staaten, die nach dem Ersten Weltkrieg entstanden. Dieser Beitrag untersucht, inwiefern irische Veteranen während der Aufbauphase des Irischen Freistaats in den zwanziger und dreißiger Jahren als Übergangsfiguren dienten. Die Weltkriegsveteranen werden häufig als kategorisch verleumdete oder vergessene Opfer einer von wachsendem Nationalismus geprägten Zeit dargestellt. Dieser Beitrag vertritt jedoch die These, dass sie – auch wenn sie ein Vermächtnis des britischen Empire waren – während der zwanziger und frühen dreißiger Jahre allgemein unterstützt wurden und für den Irischen Freistaat sogar als Vehikel zur Zementierung seiner Stabilität und zur Definition seiner Unabhängigkeit sowie seiner nationalen und internationalen Verpflichtungen dienten.

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1 Lee, Joseph J., Ireland, 1912–1985: Politics and Society (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990), 21; Ohlmeyer, Jane, ‘Early Modern Ireland and English Imperialism’, in Kenny, Kevin, ed., Ireland and the British Empire (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), 52.

2 Foster, R. F., Modern Ireland, 1600–1972 (New York: Penguin Books, 1989), 494502.

3 Ibid. 536–68.

4 Shaw, Martin, ‘The State of Globalization: Towards a Theory of State Transformation’, Review of International Political Economy, 4, 3 (1997), 497513; Geertz, Clifford, ‘What Is a State If It Is Not a Sovereign? Reflections on Politics in Complicated Places’, Current Anthropology, 45, 5 (2004), 577–93; Fowler, Michael Ross and Bunck, Julie Marie, ‘What Constitutes the Sovereign State?’, Review of International Studies, 22, 4 (1996), 381404.

5 Hudson, Ray, ‘One Europe or Many? Reflections on Becoming European’, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 25, 4 (2000), 409–26.

6 Kissane, Bill, ‘Defending Democracy? The Legislative Response to Political Extremism in the Irish Free State, 1922–39’, Irish Historical Studies, 34, 134 (2004), 156–74; Townshend, Charles, ‘The Meaning of Irish Freedom Constitutionalism in the Free State’, Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, 8 (1998), 4570; Garvin, Tom, 1922, The Birth of Irish Democracy (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1996).

7 Garvin, The Birth of Irish Democracy.

8 O’Halpin, Eunan, Defending Ireland: The Irish State and Its Enemies since 1922 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999).

9 Other new states, of course, faced similar challenges in the wake of the war. Czechoslovakia is a particularly good example – one that, like the Free State, was concerned about maintaining its distance from its former imperial situation as well as establishing its own state and democracy. This case was also complicated by Romanian revisionism. On this example, see Orzoff, Andrea, Battle for the Castle: The Myth of Czechoslovakia in Europe, 1914–1948 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009). For a general overview of the establishment of these new states at the peace conference, see Steiner, Zara, The Lights That Failed: European International History, 1919–1933 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), 256313, 494–564. For minority protections coming out of the ‘petit Versailles’ treaties, see also Fink, Carole, Defending the Rights of Others: The Great Powers, the Jews, and International Minority Protection, 1878–1938 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004).

10 Garvin, The Birth of Irish Democracy, 24; Kennedy, Michael, ‘“Civil Servants Cannot Be Politicians”: The Professionalisation of the Irish Foreign Service, 1919–22’, Irish Studies in International Affairs, 8 (1997), 95109, and O’Halpin, Defending Ireland, 30. Nor has the Free State been the only British colonial successor state to grapple with the challenges of establishing a successful democracy in the wake of an imperial split: see Anderson, Perry, ‘After Nehru’, London Review of Books, 34, 15 (2012), 15. Anderson argues eloquently that the Indian model of democracy, based heavily on British legacy institutions but held together more by caste than by an ideology of equality, has struggled with the same post-colonial challenges. For Anderson, ‘unity’ of the multitudinous identities in India belies a state whose democratic input of voting still produces an output of dramatic inequality that does not live up to the state's commonly touted claims to possession of a miraculous nature in an otherwise illiberal and highly diverse part of the world.

11 Fowler and Bunck, ‘What Constitutes the Sovereign State?’, 383–4.

12 See, for example, Tobin, Robert Benjamin, The Minority Voice: Hubert Butler and Southern Irish Protestantism, 1900–1991 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), 215–56; Busteed, M. A., Neal, Frank and Tonge, Jonathan, Irish Protestant Identities (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2008); Jackson, Alvin, Ireland, 1798–1998: Politics and War (Oxford: Blackwell, 1999); Hart, Peter, ‘The Protestant Experience of Revolution in Southern Ireland’, in English, Richard and Walker, Graham S., eds, Unionism in Modern Ireland: New Perspectives on Politics and Culture (New York: Macmillan Press, 1996), 8198.

13 Loughlin, James, The British Monarchy and Ireland: 1800 to the Present (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007).

14 Kennedy, ‘“Civil Servants Cannot Be Politicians”’, 95–109.

15 Interest in Ireland's role in the First World War is young in the Republic, and historians have only begun to work on the issue relatively recently; see Jeffery, Keith, Ireland and the Great War (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011); Horne, John, ed., Our War: Ireland and the Great War (Royal Irish Academy, 2008). For work on wartime participation; political and collective memory, remembrance, and mourning; and the civil war period, particularly the role of the IRA and IRB, see Fitzpatrick, David, ‘Militarism in Ireland, 1900–1922’, in Bartlett, Thomas and Jeffery, Keith, eds, A Military History of Ireland (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 379406. Fitzpatrick has analysed the numbers of Irish men who joined the Irish regiments in Ireland and has discounted participation from the rest of the Commonwealth. See also Jeffery, Keith, ‘The Great War in Modern Irish Memory’, in Bartlett Fraser, T. G. and Jeffery, Keith, eds, Men, Women, and War: Papers Read before the Twentieth Irish Conference of Historians, Held at Magee College, University of Ulster, 6–8 June 1991 (Dublin: Lilliput Press, 1993), 136–57; Leonard, Jane, ‘Facing “The Finger of Scorn”: Veterans’ Memories of Ireland after the Great War’, in Evans, Martin and Lunn, Kenneth, eds, War and Memory in the Twentieth Century (Oxford: Berg, 1997), 5972; Leonard, Jane, ‘Getting Them at Last: The I. R. A. And Ex-Servicemen’, in Fitzpatrick, David, ed., Revolution?: Ireland 1917–1923 (Dublin: Trinity History Workshop, 1990), 118–29; Hart, Peter, The I. R. A. and Its Enemies: Violence and Community in Cork, 1916–1923 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1998). Leonard has discussed the targeting of ex-servicemen by the IRA during the civil wars; the IRA considered ex-servicemen as a group to be detrimental to their national revolt. This targeting included assassination, kidnapping, beating, and social and financial boycott.

16 Nor is this, of course, a uniquely Irish phenomenon. For the role of ex-servicemen in other states, see the classic works of Prost, Antoine, In the Wake of War: Les Anciens Combattants and French Society, English edn (Providence: Berg, 1992) and Les Anciens Combattants et la Société Française: 1914–1939 (Paris: Presses de la Fondation Nationale des Sciences Politiques, 1977); Barr, Niall, The Lion and the Poppy: British Veterans, Politics, and Society, 1921–1939 (Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 2005); Cohen, Deborah, The War Come Home: Disabled Veterans in Britain and Germany, 1914–1939 (Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press, 2001). See also more recent work such as Audoin-Rouzeau, Stèphane and Becker, Annette, 14–18: Understanding the Great War (New York: Hill and Wang, 2002). The memory of these soldiers and their sacrifices has been well surveyed by Winter, J. M., Sites of Memory, Sites of Mourning: The Great War in European Cultural History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995). That competing loyalties existed for many First World War ex-servicemen is also important to note: the disintegration of the Austro-Hungarian empire is one particular example, the soldiers of Alsace-Lorraine another. One of the most successful commanders of the Austrian military on the Isonzo, General Svetozar Boroevic von Bojna, was a Croat who died nearly penniless after the war, living out of his military trunk, because he no longer had a home or proper pension in either the new Austria or the new Yugoslavia, see Thompson, Mark, The White War: Life and Death on the Italian Front, 1915–1919 (New York: Basic Books, 2009), 365. The complexity of the dual nature of the inhabitants of Alsace-Lorraine, conscripted into the German army but part of the French state after the war, delayed the erection of a war memorial in Strasbourg until the 1930s: see Fischer, Christopher J., Alsace to the Alsatians? Visions and Divisions of Alsatian Regionalism, 1870–1939 (New York: Berghahn Books, 2010), 162–74.

17 Lee, Ireland, 1912–1985, 21; Ohlmeyer, ‘Early Modern Ireland and English Imperialism’, 26–60.

18 Fitzpatrick, ‘Militarism in Ireland, 1900–1922’, 379–406.

19 Jackson, Ireland, 1798–1998, 215–43. While Jackson argues that the decline of the Unionist movement was related to a failure of the cohesion between landed and commercial capital, he notes the role of the First World War in literally killing off part of this population as well.

20 Leonard, ‘Getting Them at Last’, 118–29; Leonard, ‘Facing “The Finger of Scorn”’, 59–72.

21 Bolger, Dermot, ‘In Flanders Fields the Poppies Blow’, Irish Independent, 11 Nov. 1998, www.independent.ie/opinion/analysis/in-flanders-fields-the-poppies-blow-26167891.html (accessed 26 Sept. 2013).

22 Jeffery, Keith, ‘Irish War Experience and Theatre’, in Das, Santanu, ed., Race, Empire and First World War Writing (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), 255–7.

23 Fitzpatrick, ‘Militarism in Ireland, 1900–1922’, 388.

24 Jeffery, Ireland and the Great War, 5–6.

25 Fitzpatrick, ‘Militarism in Ireland, 1900–1922’, 379–406.

26 Ibid. 388.

27 Lee, Ireland, 1912–1985, 23.

28 Fitzpatrick, David, ‘Home Front and Everyday Life’, in Horne, Our War, 131–42. Horne, John, ‘Our War, Our History’, in Horne, Our War, 114.

29 United Kingdom War Office, Statistics of the Military Effort of the War (London: HMSO, Naval and Military Press, 1922), 363.

30 Fitzpatrick, ‘Home Front and Everyday Life’, 131–42. Horne, ‘Our War, Our History’, 1–14.

31 ‘Canada, Soldiers of the First World War, 1914–1918’, Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa, Record Group 150, Accession 1992–1993/166, Boxes 4930 - 35, via www.ancestry.com (accessed 25 Sept. 2013).

32 ‘Mapping Our Anzacs’, National Archives of Australia, mappingouranzacs.naa.gov.au (accessed 26 Sept. 2013). New Zealand numbers are an approximation using the 1.3% percentage Irish born against the approximately 100,000 New Zealand recruits for the First World War.

33 See Orr, Philip, ‘200,000 Volunteer Soldiers’, in Horne, Our War, 6377. Adding approximations from US and British units could raise this number considerably, though the available data is quite patchy and allows for estimation only. Fitzpatrick's 210,000 count would put Irishmen at about 4.2% of the total British army over the course of the war. Before the war, however, Irishmen made up 7.8% of the British army and about 9% of the population (see Jeffery, Keith, ‘The British Army and Ireland since 1922’, in Jeffery and Bartlett, A Military History of Ireland, 431–58. If that participation percentage had managed to hold, the total Irish participation in the British army would be closer to 390,000 men. US additions would be much lower, at about 1,000 men (see US immigration numbers as calculated by the Economic History Association, using passenger lists. Raymond L. Cohn, ‘Immigration to the United States’, www.eh.net/encyclopedia/article/cohn.immigration.us (accessed 16 Oct. 2013). A figure of approximately 1,000 Irish-born US draftees was generated by analysing the number of Irish immigrants between 1894 and 1914 and applying the 11.7% US draft rate to a conservative assumption of draft-age men).

34 Here we need to keep in mind that the 235,000 estimate does include soldiers from both north and south; reliable statistics to separate them do not exist, as the island was not partitioned until 1921. While these numbers unfortunately cannot be split out by north and south, we should remember that such a formal distinction is partially anachronistic and did not exist until several years after the close of the war. The impression of sizeable Irish participation in the imperial conflict was a cultural constant more than six years in the making before the political establishment of the formal geographic split.

35 Fitzpatrick, ‘Home Front and Everyday Life’, 135.

36 William Archer Redmond, Dáil Debates, 21, 16 Nov. 1927.

37 Redmond, Dáil Debates, 21, 16 Nov. 1927.

38 ‘150,000 Ex-Servicemen Resident in Free State’, Irish Independent, 31 Jan. 1929, 11.

39 Fitzpatrick, ‘Militarism in Ireland, 1900–1922’, 392; ‘Lord Haig's Appeal’, Irish Independent, 10 Nov. 1926, 9; ‘Armistice Day’, Irish Independent, 28 Aug. 1933, 7.

40 As these ex-servicemen served in the British armed forces, it is the British system, and not the Irish one, that is relevant here, despite the change in citizenship.

41 Cohen, The War Come Home.

42 Ibid. 17.

43 Wootton, Graham, The Official History of the British Legion (London: Macdonald and Evans, 1956), 16.

44 Ibid. 82.

45 Leonard, Jane, ‘The Twinge of Memory: Armistice Day and Remembrance Sunday in Dublin since 1919’, in English, Richard and Walker, Graham, eds, Unionism in Modern Ireland: New Perspectives on Politics and Culture (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1996), 99114; Leonard, Jane, ‘Survivors’, in Horne, Our War, 209–23.

46 ‘Poppy Day Figures’, The Irish Times, 1 Sept. 1925, 5; E. K. Fleury, ‘Earl Haig's Poppy Fund’, The Irish Times, 6 Nov. 1929, 4.

47 ‘Free State Poppy Day Fund’, The Irish Times, 6 Nov. 1935, 13.

48 ‘Remembrance Day’, The Irish Times, 30 Oct. 1928, 8; ‘Free State Poppy Day Fund’, 13; ‘The British Legion’, The Irish Times, 11 Dec. 1939, 9.

49 ‘They Shall Be Remembered’, The Irish Times, 2 Sept. 1937, 4.

50 Foster, Modern Ireland, 1600–1972, 516–26. Lee, Ireland, 1912–1985, 150201.

51 Untitled, The Irish Times, 12 Nov. 1923, 6.

52 ‘Dublin's Poppy Sales Record’, The Irish Times, 13 Nov. 1925, 5.

53 ‘World-wide Celebrations of Remembrance Day’, The Irish Times, 12 Nov. 1927, 9.

54 ‘18,000 Ex-Service Men March to Park’, Irish Independent, 12 Nov. 1927, 7; ‘A Day of Reverent Remembrance’, Irish Independent, 12 Nov. 1927, 10.

55 See, e.g. ‘Dublin's Poppy Sales Record’, 5; ‘Ceremony in Belfast’, The Irish Times, 13 Nov. 1933, 8; ‘The Day in Cork’, Irish Independent, 12 Nov. 1927, 10; ‘A Day of Reverent Remembrance’, Irish Independent, 12 Nov. 1927, 10.

56 ‘Touching Tributes to Fallen’, Irish Independent, 12 Nov. 1929, 8.

57 ‘Dublin's Poppy Sales Record’, 5. ‘18,000 Ex-Service Men March to Park’, Irish Independent, 12 Nov 1927, 7.

58 Leonard, ‘The Twinge of Memory’, 99–114, 104.

59 ‘World-wide Celebrations of Remembrance Day’, 9; Mary Ryan, ‘Letters to the Editor’, The Irish Times, 18 Nov. 1927, 7.

60 Fleury, ‘Earl Haig's Poppy Fund’, 4.

61 ‘British Legion Metropolitan Branch Annual Meeting A’, The Irish Times, 4 Nov. 1932, 4.

62 ‘Remembrance Day’, Weekly Irish Times, 4 Nov. 1933, 4.

63 ‘Thousands Meet for Commemoration’, Irish Independent, 12 Nov. 1933, 1.

64 Leonard, ‘The Twinge of Memory’, 104.

65 ‘Poppy Day Appeal’, The Irish Times, 2 Nov. 1935, 9.

66 ‘Remembrance Day’, Weekly Irish Times, 14 Nov. 1936, 10; ‘Remembrance Day’, The Irish Times, 10 Nov. 1939, 7. The Irish Emergency was a martial law system declared during the country's official neutrality in the Second World War.

67 ‘Cork Parades’, Irish Independent, 8 Nov. 1937, 6.

68 ‘Letters to the Editor Armistice Day’, The Irish Times, 10 Nov. 1930, 6.

69 ‘Report on the Committee on Claims on British Ex-Servicemen’ (Dublin: The Stationery Office, 1929). See also ‘150,000 Ex-Servicemen Resident in Free State’, Irish Independent, 31 Jan. 1929, 11.

71 Dáil Debates 21–3, 16 Nov. 1927.

72 ‘Report on the Committee on Claims on British Ex-Servicemen’, 2.

74 ‘Ex-Servicemen in the Free State’, The Irish Times, 31 Jan. 1929, 7.

75 First Report of the Irish Sailors and Soldiers Land Trust, 1st January 1924 to 31st March 1926 (London: HMSO, 1927), 7; Aalen, F. H. A., ‘Homes for Irish Heroes: Housing under the Irish Land (Provision for Soldiers and Sailors) Act 1919, and the Irish Sailors’ and Soldiers’ Land Trust’, The Town Planning Review, 59, 3 (1988), 308–9.

76 Great Britain, Local Government Board, Annual Report of the Local Government Board for Ireland, for the Year Ended 31st March, 1920, Being the Forty-Eighth Report under ‘the Local Government Board (Ireland) Act, 1872’, 35 and 36, VIC, c.69 (Dublin: HMSO, 1921), 861.

77 Aalen, ‘Homes for Irish Heroes: Housing under the Irish Land (Provision for Soldiers and Sailors) Act 1919, and the Irish Sailors’ and Soldiers’ Land Trust’, 309–10.

78 Ibid. 305.

79 Ibid. 311–12.

80 Dáil Debates 5, 1 Nov. 1923.

81 Dáil Debates 35, 12 June 1930.

82 Great Britain, Local Government Board, Annual Report of the Local Government Board for Ireland, for the Year Ended 31st March, 1920, Being the Forty-Eighth Report under ‘the Local Government Board (Ireland) Act, 1872’, 35 and 36, VIC, c.69, 861; ‘Ex-Service Men in the Free State’, The Irish Times, 31 Jan. 1929, 7.

83 First Report of the Irish Sailors and Soldiers Land Trust, Second Report of the Irish Sailors and Soldiers Land Trust, 1st April 1926 to 31st March 1927 (London: HMSO, 1928).

84 ‘Voluntary Recruiting in Ireland’, The Irish Times, 4 June 1918, 3.

85 First Report of the Irish Sailors and Soldiers Land Trust, 1st January 1924 to 31 March 1926, 20–1; ‘No Rent Payable by British Ex-Service Men’, Weekly Irish Times, 5 Aug. 1933, 1; ‘No Rent’, Weekly Irish Times, 5 Aug. 1933, 4.

86 ‘No Rent Payable by British Ex-Service Men’, 1; ‘No Rent’, 4.

88 ‘The President May Intervene’, The Sunday Independent, 23 Feb. 1936, 8.

89 ‘No Rent Payable by British Ex-Service Men’, 1.

I would like to thank Jim Cronin, the editors of Contemporary European History, and particularly the two anonymous reviewers, for their helpful comments and suggestions on the development of this article.

Whose Country, Whose Soldiers, Whose Responsibility? First World War Ex-Servicemen and the Development of the Irish Free State, 1923–1939

  • SHANNON MONAGHAN (a1)

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