Events in Ireland during the years 1900 to 1923 had a major impact including the Home Rule crisis, the First World War, the Easter Rising and War of Independence. By 1921 partition divided Ireland, following a struggle that reflected the rise of nationalism in Europe.
Years of violence, revolution and social change led to a greatly altered Ireland by 1923.
Struggles for Power
The dawn of a new century saw power struggles at home and abroad. The Anglo-Boer War of 1899 to 1902 was fought in southern Africa and resulted in victory for Britain. In 1900, Queen Victoria sent tins of chocolate to soldiers and sailors who were fighting in the war. This tin still contains some Fry’s chocolate.
At home, challenges to the existing power structure came from supporters of socialism, Marxism and other ideologies. James Connolly was a prominent labour leader and socialist revolutionary. He often stood on this chair when addressing crowds in Belfast as a labour organiser from 1911 to 1913. He was executed for his role in the 1916 Rising.
Views were divided on issues such as the Empire, colonialism, patriotism and women’s political rights. Constance Markievicz gave many speeches on her feminist and Nationalist views. She spoke of ‘a strong tide of liberty’ that was bearing Irish women ‘triumphantly into the life of the nation, where they belong’.
The Ulster Crisis
The question of Home Rule for Ireland was part of British politics from the 1880s. In 1912, a new Bill was under discussion and likely to become law in 1914. In Ireland the issue was fiercely debated
Unionists signed a special pledge against Home Rule, called The Solemn League and Covenant. This souvenir copy was signed by Colonel Fred Crawford in his own blood. An armed militia, the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF), was set up and promised to set up a government in Belfast when Home Rule was established. Crawford was one of the main organisers in bringing thousands of rifles to arm the UVF. He renamed his ship the Mountjoy after the ship that broke the Siege of Derry.
By 1914, Irish Nationalists had formed a rival militia, the Irish Volunteers. The crisis threatened civil conflict, but in 1914 the war led to the suspension of Home Rule until peacetime.
36th (Ulster) Division
About 30,000 of the Ulster Volunteer Force members joined the army. This included a separate division, the 36th (Ulster) Division, during the First World War. This flag was hoisted at the base depot in northern France and later Belgium. The damage was probably caused by artillery fire. The base depot received men on arrival from England and kept them in training while they awaited posting to a unit at the front.
Over 2,000 men from the 36th (Ulster) Division died in the opening hours of the Battle of the Somme, 1 July 1916. Memorial plaques were issued to the next of kin all British service men that were killed in action. Commonly known as the Dead Man’s Penny, nearly one and half million of these bronze plaques were issued.
A World War
The war that broke out in 1914 soon spread beyond European soil to become a global conflict. This jigsaw, titled ‘Hark, Hark the Dogs do Bark’ represents Europe at war and each country is depicted as a different dog. Theatres of war included the middle east, Asia, areas of Australasia and Africa.
County Down man Captain Meneely was sent to Africa during his service in the First World War. He was given a gift of a hand-carved wooden stool by a West African tribal chief, for helping him to escape from the Germans during fighting in the Cameroons.
The United States joined the conflict in 1917, making it a truly world war.
A War Like No Other
The First World War involved fighting on a scale never seen before. Whole nations were organised not only to provide soldiers and weapons, but also to control food and fuel supplies. This poster was part of the ‘Eat Less Bread’ campaign and encouraged people to ration their wheat.
The industrial revolution led to mass production and the use of new technology in war. This led to the development of trench warfare, such as mustard gas and machine guns. Medical staff were learning to treat new types of wounds on a scale they never had to before.
Nurses were also awarded the British and Victory medals for the role in during the war. They also received the Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Nursing Service Reserve medal. This one was awarded to Nurse Bridget Brolly from County Londonderry.
The First World War left many scars. Some were physical, such as the loss of limbs. Over 40,000 British ex-servicemen needed artificial limbs. This artificial arm was invented and made in Belfast by Surgeon T. Kirk and engineer Alexander Pringle.
Other war scars were invisible, but equally damaging. The mental stress on those who took part, generally called ‘shell shock’, sometimes lasted for many years. George Hackney, Lance Corporal, Royal Irish Rifles, was sent to France in 1915. He was injured during the Battle of the Somme and suffered from ‘shell shock.’
Medical staff worked hard to treat the huge number of injuries. Advances were made in areas such as plastic surgery and psychiatry.
War and Revolution
In Ireland the threat of civil conflict in 1914 ended with support for the war from Unionist Edward Carson and Nationalist John Redmond (featured on the souvenir jug above).
Many members of the Ulster Volunteer Force and the Irish Volunteers enlisted.
The 1916 Easter Rising was defeated after a week of fierce fighting in Dublin. This booklet was published so quickly afterwards that it contained inaccuracies. For example, the radical Nationalist party Sinn Féin did not take part in the the 1916 Easter Rising . The execution of the leaders, including Roger Casement, helped gain Nationalist support for Sinn Fein.
This poster of the Proclamation of the Provisional Government of the Irish Republic was handed to a businessman from Belfast, who was in Dublin on a business trip.
The 1918 election showed the decline of support for John Redmond and the Irish Parliamentary Party, and the increased support for Sinn Féin.
Fighting broke out in 1919, and against this background Ireland was partitioned in 1921. The Irish Free State was created in 1922 as civil war raged in the south. Six Ulster counties remained part of the United Kingdom.