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Irish consequences of the Great War

  • David Fitzpatrick (a1)

It is now widely admitted that the Great War was also Ireland’s war, with profound consequences for every element of Irish life after 1914. Its impact may be discerned in aberrant aspects of Ireland’s demographic, economic and social history, as well as in the more familiar political and military convulsions of the war years. This article surveys recent scholarship, assesses statistical evidence of the war’s social and economic impact (both positive and negative), and explores its far-reaching political repercussions. These include the postponement of expected civil conflict, the unexpected occurrence of an unpopular rebellion in 1916, and public response to the consequent coercion. The speculative final section outlines a number of plausible outcomes for Irish history in the absence of war, concluding that no single counterfactual history of a warless Ireland is defensible.

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*Department of History, Trinity College Dublin,
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1 Fitzpatrick David (ed.), Ireland and the First World War (Dublin, 1986); Jeffery Keith, Ireland and the Great War (Cambridge, 2000); Gregory Adrian and Pašeta Senia (eds), Ireland and the Great War: ‘a war to unite us all?’ (Manchester, 2002); Horne John (ed.), Our war: Ireland and the Great War (Dublin, 2008).

2 Fitzpatrick, Ireland and the First World War; Harris Henry, The Irish regiments in the First World War (Cork, 1968); Johnstone Tom, Orange, green and khaki: the story of the Irish regiments in the Great War, 1914–18 (Dublin, 1992); Denman Terence, Ireland’s unknown soldiers: the 16th (Irish) division in the Great War, 1914–1918 (Dublin, 1992); Orr Philip, The road to the Somme: men of the Ulster division tell their story (Belfast, 1987); Orr Philip, Field of bones: an Irish division at Gallipoli (Dublin, 2006); Sandford Stephen, Neither unionist nor nationalist: the 10th (Irish) division in the Great War, 1914–1918 (Dublin, 2014).

3 See, for example, Dungan Myles, They shall not grow old: Irish soldiers and the Great War (Dublin, 1997); Richardson Neil, A coward if I return, a hero if I fall: stories of Irishmen in World War I (Dublin, 2010); Myers Kevin, Ireland’s Great War (Dublin, 2014); Bunbury Turtle, The glorious madness: tales of the Irish and the Great War (Dublin, 2014).

4 Committee of the Irish National War Memorial, Ireland’s memorial records, 1914–1918: being the names of Irishmen who fell in the Great European War, 1914–1918, (8 vols, Dublin, 1923).

5 For thematic surveys, see Winter Jay (ed.), The Cambridge history of the First World War (3 vols, Cambridge, 2014), iii, Civil society.

6 According to the Registrar-General for Ireland, 27,405 Irish servicemen (excluding officers) died on active service outside the United Kingdom between 1914 and 1918. The true number of deaths attributable to war service, excluding those of ‘Irish’ servicemen enlisted outside Ireland, probably exceeded 30,000. In the decade 1901–10, 64,364 men aged 20–44 were registered as having died in Ireland, equivalent to 27,355 deaths of men of roughly military age over a period of 4.25 years (as between August 1914 and November 1918). The war had no clear consequences for domestic mortality within Ireland, the number of registered deaths being 294,250 for 1910–13 and 298,961 for 1915–18. See Éireann Saorstát, Census of population, 1926, x, General report (Dublin, 1934), p. 12; Supplement to the 47th report of the Registrar-General of Marriages, Births, and Deaths, in Ireland, containing decennial summaries . . . for the years 1901–1910, in House of Commons Papers [HCP], 1914 [Cd 7121], xv, 1; Vaughan W. E. and Fitzpatrick A. J. (eds), Irish historical statistics: population, 1921–1971 (Dublin, 1978), Table 45.

7 The number of births registered in Ireland, 1915–18, fell below the figure for 1910–13 by 44,156 (11%). The equivalent reductions elsewhere were 14% in Scotland, 17% in England and Wales, 25% in Italy, 42% in both France and Belgium, 43% in Germany, and 48% in Hungary. Fertility remained low in 1919, preceding the ‘baby boom’ of 1920. In contrast with the wartime decline in nuptiality in continental Europe, the number of marriages scarcely changed in Ireland and Britain, apart from an eruption of ‘war marriages’ peaking in 1915. Figures are derived from Vaughan and Fitzpatrick, Irish historical statistics, Tables 43, 44; Mitchell B. R., European historical statistics, 1750–1975 (London, 1987 edn), Table B5.

8 The Registrar-General recorded the emigration of only 21,052 persons from Irish ports for 1915–18, compared with 123,341 for 1910–13 (a reduction of 83%): Vaughan and Fitzpatrick, Irish historical statistics, Table 54.

9 Over 34,000 workers were engaged by British munition factories through Irish labour exchanges in 1917–18: O’Flanagan Neil, ‘Dublin City in an age of war and revolution, 1914–1924’ (M.A. thesis, University College, Dublin, 1985), p. 47.

10 In ship-building, the increase was 14%. Employment in these sectors declined markedly in the first half of the war, recovering between 1916 and 1918: monthly official returns in the Board of Trade Labour Gazette (subsequently issued by the Ministry of Labour).

11 O’Flanagan, ‘Dublin City’, p. 9; Riordan E. J., Modern Irish trade and industry (London, 1920), ch. 11. For a bleak account of Dublin’s wartime economy, see Yeates Padraig, A city in wartime: Dublin, 1914–18 (Dublin, 2011).

12 Brennan Papers, N.L.I. MS 26191.

13 On 30 June 1914, the proportions unemployed in Ireland were 4.5% in ship-building, 4.9% in engineering, 4.4% in printing, and 7.0% in building and construction (corresponding figures for the entire United Kingdom being 4.1%, 3.3%, 3.2%, and 3.8%, respectively). Statistics, from the Labour Gazette, are based on the number of unemployment books lodged compulsorily at labour exchanges or unemployment fund offices, the number insured being estimated annually as in July. Returns of unemployment in printing were supplied by the trades unions.

14 Aggregate official wage returns were not compiled for Ireland during the war years, but comparison is possible between October 1913 and December 1920. The increases in various trades (expressed as unweighted means of the increases in all Irish towns for which figures were returned in both years) were as follows. Engineering: 177% (turners), 175% (fitters), 173% (pattern-makers). Metals: 143% (iron-founders), 136% (ship-wrights), 106% (ship-joiners). Building: 177% (brick-layers), 172% (masons), 175% (carpenters and joiners), 170% (plumbers), 180% (plasterers), 181% (painters), 301% (labourers). Miscellaneous: 191% (cabinet-makers), 179% (compositors), 162% (boot and shoe-makers), 187% (bakers). Most of these wage increases fall somewhat short of inflation, as measured by the Sauerbeck–Statist index which indicated an increase of 195% in wholesale prices in the United Kingdom between 1913 and 1920. See Standard time rates of wages in the United Kingdom at 1st October, 1913, in HCP, 1914, lxxx [Cd. 7194], 919; Standard time rates of wages and hours of labour in the United Kingdom at 31st December, 1920, in HCP, 1921, xl [Cmd. 1253], 711; Mitchell B. R. and Deane Phyllis, Abstract of British historical statistics (Cambridge, 1971 edn), pp 474475.

15 For every 100 machines and implements enumerated in Ireland in 1912, the number in 1917 (in descending rank order) was as follows: multi-furrow ploughs 296, combined threshers and finishers 222, disc harrows 217, steam engines 179, spring-tooth harrows 174, potato-diggers 158, binders 157, water wheels and turbines 139, horse potato-sprayers 123, knapsack potato-sprayers 117, single-furrow ploughs 115, mowers and reapers 112, ordinary fixed-tooth harrows 101, winnowers and fanners 101, ordinary threshers 93, seed-sowing machines for turnips and mangels 93: Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction for Ireland [D.A.T.I.I.], Agricultural statistics, Ireland 1912: reports and tables relating to Irish agricultural labourers, 42–5, in HCP, 1913, lxxvi [Cd. 6928], 469; Saorstát Éireann, Department of Industry and Commerce, Agricultural statistics, 1847–1926 (Dublin, 1928), pp 150–3. No statistics for intervening years have been located.

16 The percentage ratio of annual average wholesale prices in 1918 to those in 1913 was 227 for wheat, 230 for butter, and 240 for pork, but only 146 for potatoes (destined mainly for the domestic market): figures adapted from Thomas Barrington’s calculations in ‘A review of Irish agricultural prices’ in Stat. Soc. Ire. Jn., xiv (1925–6), pp 249–80, at p. 253.

17 Average Irish potato prices for each quarter (1913–18), in pence per hundredweight, were as follows: 1913: 47, 53, 51, 34; 1914: 36, 39, 49, 38; 1915: 50, 52, 47, 44; 1916: 41, 59, 81, 98; 1917: 116, 133, 80, 64; 1918: 52, 63, 79, 74: D.A.T.I.I., Journal, passim.

18 For long-term trends in Irish agriculture, see Saorstát Éireann, Department of Industry and Commerce, Agricultural statistics, 1847–1926 (Dublin, 1928); Turner Michael, After the Famine: Irish agriculture, 1850–1914 (Cambridge, 1996); Gráda Cormac Ó, Ireland: a new economic history, 1780–1939 (Oxford, 1994).

19 By early 1917, 4,006 farmers (less than 2% of rateable occupiers in Ireland) had sought exemption from the regulations, leading to 865 grants, while 8–9,000 failures to implement the regulations had been reported: D.A.T.I.I., Journal, xvii (Apr. 1917), pp 507–10.

20 Annual Agricultural statistics of Ireland, in H.C.P.; Ministry of Agriculture, A century of agricultural statistics: Great Britain, 1866–1966 (London, 1968), Table 43.

21 David Fitzpatrick, Politics and Irish life, 1913–1921: provincial experience of war and revolution (Dublin, 1977), pp 272–3.

22 Fitzpatrick David, ‘Strikes in Ireland, 1914–1921’ in Saothar, vi (1980), pp 2639; see also Theresa Moriarty, ‘Work, warfare and wages: industrial controls and Irish trade unionism in the First World War’ in Gregory and Pašeta, Ireland and the Great War, pp 73–93; Niamh Purcell, ‘War, work and labour’ in Horne, Our war, pp 181–194.

23 Bourke Joanna, Husbandry to housewifery: women, economic change, and housework in Ireland, 1890–1914 (Oxford, 1993), part I.

24 Incomplete returns give the number of women belonging to Irish trades unions as 4,391 in 1914, 4,428 in 1915, 4,900 in 1916, and 14,651 in 1917 (excluding the I.W.W.U.). Many Irish workers would have belonged to other unions, without Irish placenames or the word ‘Irish’ in their titles. See Ministry of Reconstruction, Report of the women’s employment committee, pp 94–106, in HCP, 1918 [Cd 9239], xiv, 783.

25 Membership of the I.W.W.U. (only ‘a few hundreds’ at the end of 1916) was returned as 2,300 in 1917, 5,300 in 1918, 5,400 in 1919, and 2,942 in 1920. Female membership of the Irish Drapers’ Assistants’ Association rose only slowly from 1912 (1,309) through 1914 (1,413) to 1917 (1,471), thereafter increasing to 1,898 in 1918, 2,933 in 1919, and 3,028 in 1920. The strength of the Dublin Guild of Female Biscuit Operatives increased from 894 to 1,255 during its first year (1916), subsequently subsiding to 1,190 in 1917, 1,183 in 1918, 1,106 in 1919, and 1,079 in 1920. See Liza Marie Toye, ‘Women workers in Dublin during the First World War’ (M.Litt. thesis, Trinity College, Dublin, 1989), pp 96, 102, 150.

26 See, however, Catriona Clear, ‘Fewer ladies, more women’ in Horne, Our war, pp 157–70.

27 The donation was soon limited to ex-servicemen and civilians in ‘insured’ trades, who ceased to be eligible from Nov. 1919; the scope of the dole for uninsured civilians was much reduced after Feb. 1919. By 28 Feb., donations for uninsured workers had been issued to 42,214 men, 2,034 boys, 30,236 women, and 2,836 girls, in addition to 17,003 sailors and 14 women in the forces (no soldiers were yet in receipt). Over the four weeks to 28 Feb., the average number of insured workers receiving benefits was 51,315 civilians and 8,660 demobilised servicemen. Thereafter, the published statistics were not broken down by regions such as Ireland: Labour Gazette (Jan.–Mar. 1919).

28 Leonard Jane, ‘Survivors’ in Horne, Our war, pp 209223, at p. 216.

29 Annual index prices for wheat, butter, and pork (1913=100) in 1918–21 were as follows: wheat: 227, 227, 286, 206; butter: 230, 273, 310, 200; pork: 240, 247, 294, 202: for source, see n. 16, above.

30 Fitzpatrick , Politics and Irish life, p. 253.

31 For a sceptical account of the U.V.F.’s contribution to the Ulster Division, see Bowman Timothy, Carson’s army: the Ulster Volunteer Force, 1910–22 (Manchester, 2007).

32 See, for example, Broin Leon Ó, The Chief Secretary: Augustine Birrell in Ireland (London, 1969), ch. 5.

33 See Bew Paul, Ideology and the Irish question: Ulster unionism and Irish nationalism, 1912–1916 (Oxford, 1994), ch. 6.

34 Returns from divisional centres indicated that the number of paying members within Ireland was 1,660 in 1912 and about 2,000 in 1914: Cronin Seán, The McGarrity papers (Tralee, 1972), pp 3233; Lynch Diarmuid, The I.R.B. and the 1916 Rising, ed. Florence O’Donoghue (Cork, 1967), p. 24.

35 Fitzpatrick David, ‘The geography of Irish nationalism, 1910–1921’ in Past and Present, no. 78 (1978), pp 113144, at p. 130.

36 Fitzpatrick David, ‘The logic of collective sacrifice: Ireland and the British army, 1914–1918’ in Historical Journal, xxxviii (1995), pp 10171030, at pp 1028–9.

37 Hyde’s celebrated address, ‘The necessity for de-anglicising Ireland’, was presented to the National Literary Society on 25 Nov. 1892, and published in The revival of Irish literature: addresses (London, 1894), pp 116–61.

38 Martin F. X., ‘The 1916 Rising: a coup d’état or a “bloody protest”?’ in Studia Hib., viii (1968), pp 106137.

39 Boyle John W., ‘Irish labour and the Rising’ in Éire–Ireland, ii (1967), pp 122131.

40 This interpretation is not endorsed by Townshend Charles, Easter 1916: the Irish rebellion (London, 2005), esp. pp 353354, or McGarry Fearghal, ‘Violence and the Easter Rising’ in David Fitzpatrick (ed.), Terror in Ireland, 1916–1923 (Dublin, 2012), pp 3957, at pp 42–3.

41 After 1918, the Great War continued to shape Irish politics. Sinn Féin’s campaign for international recognition was based on the commitment of the allied powers to self-determination for small nations; the return of over 100,000 servicemen posed a challenge to the republican consensus as well as supplying personnel for all military, paramilitary, and political forces; and war commemoration has recently become a significant element of the northern ‘peace process’.

42 Yeats W. B., ‘What then?’, published posthumously in Last poems and plays (London, 1940).

43 ‘Permanent’ emigrants (as classified by the Registrar-General) were those preparing to settle outside Ireland for at least a year, many of whom would in fact have returned. Though on ‘temporary’ contracts, many servicemen and munition workers would never return to Ireland after the war.

44 Yeates Padraig, Lockout: Dublin, 1913 (Dublin, 2000).

45 Durcan J. W., McCarthy W. E. J., and Redman G. P., Strikes in post-war Britain: a study of stoppages of work due to industrial disputes, 1946–73 (London, 1983).

46 Downes Margaret, ‘The civilian voluntary aid effort’ in Fitzpatrick, Ireland and the First World War, pp 2737; Reilly Eileen, ‘Women and voluntary war work’ in Gregory and Pašeta, Ireland and the Great War, pp 4972; Clear , ‘Fewer ladies’, pp 161164.

47 Dangerfield George, The strange death of liberal England (London, 1935).

48 Section 49 of the Government of Ireland Act (4 & 5 Geo. 5, cap. 90) required that the Irish Parliament be summoned to meet within four months of the ‘appointed day’ (the first Tuesday in the eighth month after the passing of the Act), while the implementation of other elements of the settlement could be varied by Order in Council within a range of seven months before and after the ‘appointed day’.

49 For development of these themes, see Fitzpatrick David, The two Irelands, 1912–1939 (Oxford, 1998).

50 Foster R. E., The Irish story: telling tales and making it up in Ireland (London, 2001), pp 2021.

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Irish Historical Studies
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