Project highlights Ireland’s complex relationship with WWI

News Letter editorial
News Letter editorial

It is now 100 years from the point in the Great War in which the four years of stalemate on the western front suddenly turned in favour of the allies.

It came after horrendous trench warfare which saw either side make barely any progress in the conflict, occasionally breaking through at some point in the other’s long defence line and then being pushed back.

Always such minor achievements came at the expense of great bloodshed that it is almost impossible to comprehend in our peaceful, affluent, privileged times.

World War One began in August 1914 and its centenary has been marked on numerous key dates since August 2014.

And we are now 100 years past that stage when the Germans were pushed back towards their country.

August 8 1918 was the ‘Black Day of the German Army’ in the Somme, when a British 4th Army assault caused six German divisions to fall apart and thousands of prisoners to be taken.

The various commemorations of 1914-18 landmarks over the last four years have, among other things, highlighted the role played in the war by hundreds of thousands of Irishmen.

Not only were vast numbers of them southern Irish Catholics, but many of them were supporters of John Redmond’s moderate nationalist party.

Poignantly, such volunteers both wanted reform in Ireland but were prepared to do what they thought was their duty in a time of global crisis, at the behest of Britain.

Their decision to go to the frontline was overshadowed by the events of the Easter Rising and its aftermath.

Now the first ever bid to excavate a First World War training trench in the Republic of Ireland is under way.

The site of the former Birr Barracks in Co Offaly was destroyed after independence.

This is the latest fascinating project to highlight the complexity of Ireland’s relationship to the Great War.