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Ireland and the First World War

British historiography has been offered a once-in-a-generation opportunity to integrate Ireland’s contribution into analyses of the Great War, argues Catriona Pennell.

5th Battalion Royal Irish Fusiliers in the trenches at Gallipoli, 1915In October 2012 David Cameron promised ‘a truly national commemoration’ to mark the centenary of the First World War. Concerns quickly emerged that ‘national’, in reality, meant ‘England’. Not only would this be unrepresentative of the United Kingdom as it exists today but it also disregards the geopolitical configuration of the state that declared war on August 4th, 1914: the United Kingdom of Britain and Ireland. 

Understanding the interconnected relationship that existed during the war between the now independent states of Britain and the Republic of Ireland is significant to our understanding of the First World War on a number of levels. How did nationalist Ireland – the most significant threat to the British authorities in the summer of 1914 – come to support the war effort? What contribution did Ireland make to the British war effort and how can it be framed more broadly within a colonial response? How did Anglo-Irish relations evolve over the course of and as a result of the war? Where and when did divergences emerge? What was the postwar legacy of Ireland’s contribution, for both Britain and the Irish Free State? How has that contribution been remembered, if at all? 

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