The buildings at the Ulster American Folk Park and World War One
Ireland was all one country in 1914 and fully and completely part of Great Britain. There were 103 Irish MPs out of a total of 670. Irish nationalist MPs yield considerable power with a minority Liberal government.
Emigration had reduced to a small stream compared to the previous flood but still 30,000 people were leaving each year for the USA and Canada. They represented 80% of those that left Ireland, only 20% went to Britain.
The main source of conflict is the suffragette movement struggling for women’s votes, Emily Pankhurst is leading a more militant campaign and this is reflected in Belfast. There is huge tension between William Carson’s Ulster Volunteers and John Redmond’s Irish Volunteers as Parliament is about to pass the Home Rule Bill. However this has not broken out into violence, all that could change if as seems likely the proposed bill becomes law.
All these concerns are left behind to some extent when Archduke Franz Ferdinand is assassinated in Sarajevo.
The Irish are over represented in the British Army for many years
The Irish were very much involved in the British Army before the First World War, many regiments were completely Irish. The Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers based in Omagh, recruited from Derry, Donegal, Fermanagh and Tyrone. The Royal Irish Rifles based in Belfast recruited from Antrim and Down. The Royal Irish Fusiliers based in Armagh recruited from Armagh, Cavan, Monaghan and Louth.
The poorer classes are where armies get their volunteers and the Irish are over represented in the British Army. In 1830 over 40% of troops are Irish, when Ireland makes up just under a third of the total population of the United Kingdom. Even in 1890 when the population has fallen dramatically in Ireland, the Irish still form 14% of the British Army. When emigration prospects from Ireland are bad more young men join the British Army.
A typical Ulster street
The British mobilisation after the German invasion of Belgium and France meant that reserves and special reserves are called up to the regiments based in Ireland. These Irish soldiers are part of the British Expeditionary Forces that lands in France in September and halts the German advances. This is the regular army.
Lord Kitchener realised that this is going to be a long war and draws up plans for a volunteer army. Pals battalions are formed up all over England for example the Tyneside Irish battalion. Kitchener set up the 10th Irish Division for volunteers, it is the least political of Ireland’s divisions, volunteers are slow to come forwards as many are waiting to see what their political leaders have to say. On the mainland the problem is almost too many volunteers for the Pals’ battalions and getting facilities for them. The 10th is the first to see action first at Gallipoli; it also serves in Bulgaria and Palestine before moving to France in 1918.
Market days were good opportunities for recruitment. A regimental band would play stirring tunes, a platform would be set up and old soldiers would make speeches. The recruiting sergeant would encourage volunteers and criticise the lack of people coming forward from rural parts.
Unionist response to the war
Leading Unionist William Carson has have been working against Home Rule for Ireland for two years. The Ulster Covenant was signed by half a million people in September 1912. The Ulster Volunteers were organised in 1913. Carson offered his Ulster volunteers up to protect Britain but wants to form an army to stay in Ireland to protect Ireland from German attack.
Eventually Lord Kitchener forms the 36th Ulster Division. It is associated with the Ulster Volunteers. However it is not formed solely from them, it would be fair to say that most men in it had signed the Ulster covenant. Political interference in it meant that certain people were placed as officers within it; as time went on poor quality men were removed from their positions. The nature of the division meant that most Catholics who wanted to volunteer joined regiments outside Ulster many went to the Connaught Rangers.
Nationalist response to the war
On the nationalist side in 1913 the Irish Volunteers are formed in support of Irish Home Rule. They are formed by the Irish Republican Brotherhood which can trace it roots back to the Young Irelanders of 1848 and a small failed rebellion.
However the Irish Republican Brotherhood cannot reveal their hand in the formation of the Irish Volunteers as they advocate violence to achieve Irish independence, and would be suppressed by the British authorities. They encouraged the idea of Irish Volunteers but allowed other political figures to take the limelight in it.
Numbers grew and by 1914 John Redmond and the constitutional nationalists were in some sort of control of these volunteers. Redmond, like Carson, offers his volunteers up to protect Britain but also wants to form an army to stay at home to protect Ireland from German attack.
Eventually Kitchener gets Redmond to form a division for overseas service. The 16th Irish division is only partly made up of Redmond’s Irish Volunteers, now renamed Irish National Volunteers, the overlap being even less than with the Ulster Volunteers. They have more problems getting their men appointed to officers’ positions.
Irish Volunteers that do not see Redmond as their political voice remain as the Irish Volunteers and it is from these that the men involved in the 1916 rising come from. All the new volunteer divisions 10th, 16th and 36th spend the rest of 1914 training in Ireland before going to England for more training in 1915.
The Ulster countryside
Farmers were unpopular in Ulster during the war. Prices for their produce went up and they made money while others struggled. Flax became a profitable crop again and many disused scutching mills were pressed back into service.
Although large quantities of linen were produced in Ulster most of the raw flax was imported from Europe as it was better quality and cheaper than what had been produced in Ireland. The war cut these imports off.
There was also less cotton being imported from the USA to Britain for the big mills of Lancashire. This also increased demand for Irish linen. Linen was used for uniforms and the skin of new aeroplanes. The flax boom did not last long after the war. Soon imports from Europe came back on stream and farmers gave up growing flax only starting again with the introduction of subsidies during World War Two.
Farm labourers also benefited from the War, wages went up. The wages of a flax puller increased by four times from pre-war levels. In Ulster to get the harvest in, even boy scouts from Belfast volunteered to pull flax.
British Summer Time was introduced in 1916, clocks went forwards to increase the working hours available especially to agriculture. We still have it today.
Prices in grocers’ shops rose rapidly during the war. Prices had remained stable for a long period before the conflict so it was a shock for people to see prices rise. Wages for most stood still so it was harder to make ends meet.
Wheat was in short supply so less bread was available, there was even a recipe for making bread out of turnips. White flour could not be used, only wholemeal flour. It was less wasteful as it included the bran of the grain. Actual official food rationing was introduced in 1918.
Sugar was in short supply during the war as most had to be imported meaning that they were very few sweets available. At the end of the conflict Bassets marketed a sweet called Peace Babies; we now know them as Jelly Babies.
John Keyes O’Doherty, whose family owned O'Doherty's shop at the Ulster American Folk Park, was a member of the Irish Volunteers but he did not enlist in the 16th Irish Division. He was involved in the aborted 1916 Easter Rising in Derry and eventually arrested in 1921 for treason. After a period of imprisonment he was released and emigrated to America.
Coal was very important in the war effort. However nearly all the coal had to be imported from Britain. Smaller and smaller quantities of poorer quality coal came to Ireland. Eventually coal was rationed according to the size of house that you had.
Turf would have been in bigger demand than ever. This was not such a problem in the countryside close to bogs but made life difficult in the towns and places far from bogs.
Horses for the war
Horses were very important during the war. 50,000 horses from Ireland were sent to the army in the first 6 months alone. They were used for pulling artillery and supplies. Most were either worked to death or killed by shelling.
The army especially wanted to enlist men with experience of working with horses such as blacksmiths and farm labourers. Horses were also needed to work the land to grow crops at home. They were so valuable that the government banned their export during the war unless they were sold to the army.
Information during the war
The price of paper went up to five times what it was before the war. Printers like Blair’s would have had to economise on their use of this raw material. Newspapers became smaller.
At the start of the war the Defence of the Realm Act meant that newspapers were not allowed to spread reports likely to cause disaffection or alarm. The authorities also produced booklets highlighting German cruelty to boost support for the war and to combat war weariness as it dragged on.
Medicine during the war
During the First World War, possession of drugs such as opium and cocaine was banned and only allowed to be controlled by health professionals. Before this all were freely available from the pharmacist. Basic supplies such as cod liver oil became very hard to get and expensive. Local herb growers associations were set up to try to supply medicinal herbs to meet some of the short comings. Huge amounts of sphagnum moss were gathered from bogs and dried as an antiseptic dressing for the front line.
James Hill’s son John McAdam Hill is a qualified doctor by 1911 but joins the Royal Army Medical Corps. Along with volunteer charities such as the Red Cross, the Saint John’s Ambulance and the Voluntary Aid Detachment they save many lives. The Voluntary Aid Detachment was made of women who volunteered to work alongside trained professional nurses in hospitals at home and abroad.
Communication in the war
The post office was a busy place during the war. Letters moved fairly quickly between home and the frontline. 12 million were sent each week. As time went on the letters from the war zone became more censored. Food parcels were sent to serving soldiers although the Royal Mail was not supposed to be used for perishable food.
Families heard of the death or serious injury of a relative via the telegram brought by a delivery boy coming from the post office. This would be followed up by an official letter. In the case of a death the letter would be a personal one from an officer.
Women’s dress codes changed during the war, before they had been quite restrictive with an emphasis on the whalebone corset. This did not suit the working women expected to do a man’s job on the farm or in the factory. Clothes became looser reflecting the less restricted state that women were to find themselves in after the war, women’s voting rights were introduced after the war after having been denied before the war.
Middle class women were encouraged to dress less extravagantly, for morale everyone was expected to be seen to be making sacrifices.
Joseph Murray, born 1893, son of William Murray, signed the Ulster Covenant and was a member of the Ulster Volunteers but emigrated to Canada and worked in a bank before the start of the war. He enlisted in the Canadian Expeditionary Force in early 1916. Towards the end of the war is in hospital due to a gas attack. He is discharged from the army in 1919 but returns to Ireland rather than going back to Canada.
Pub opening hours change
The Defence of the Realm Act restricted pub opening hours to 12.00 noon to 2.30 pm and 6.30 to 9.30 pm. Before the law was changed, public houses could open from 5 am in the morning to 12.30 pm at night. There were even tighter controls in place when the army was passing through a town. It also reduced the strength of beer. Officially the buying of rounds was made illegal with the “no treat order”.
Reilly’s public house is from Newtownbultler, County Fermanagh. From that area there are records of 10 men loosing their lives in World War One. Four, like Francis McGovern with the Second Royal Irish Fusiliers, were with the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) indicating that they had been regular soldiers at the start of the war. Two like Robert Bowes in the Northumberland Fusiliers had left Ireland for a life in across the water but joined local regiments over there during the war. Joseph Armstrong and Charles Graeme joined the 36th Ulster Division and were in the Inniskilling Fusiliers, Patrick Boyle joined the 16th Irish Division while Thomas Agnew joined the 10th Irish Division.