The Isle of Saints and Soldiers: The Evolving Image of the Irish Combatant, 1914-1918

Heather Jones, Edward Madigan

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review


From the late 1980s, the general amnesia regarding Irish engagement with the First World War was gradually replaced by a keen and consistent curiosity, and the recent torrent of books and articles on Ireland and the war has, in particular, rescued the Catholic nationalist soldier from historical obscurity. Historians and other commentators have had relatively little to say, however, about the ways in which Catholic Irish soldiers were represented and perceived during the war itself, or, crucially, about how the roots of the antipathy and simple indifference directed at many of the Irishmen who served in the war developed in relation to changing attitudes to Ireland’s war effort during specific phases of the conflict. This chapter seeks to address these oversights by drawing on a wide range of contemporary representations from sources across the public sphere – including cabinet discussions, news- papers and recruitment posters – to explore the degree to which the image of the Irish Catholic combatant evolved over the course of the conflict in tandem with changing portrayals of the Irish war effort itself. Marked changes over time are assessed by comparing the image of the Irish Catholic combatant in recruitment campaigns at the start of the conflict with that which emerged as a result of the conscription debate towards the war’s end. The chapter begins by considering the depiction of the Irish soldier in the early part of the war as a brave and, importantly, patriotic warrior, integral to a broader positive image of Ireland’s war effort, before examining the ways in which the conscription debate undermined this portrayal in the second half of the conflict. Drawing upon this analysis, the authors contend that it was during the latter part of the war that the Irish Catholic combatant became significantly marginalized in public discourse, particularly in conjunction with the conscription crisis. It was not only due to republican anti-war propaganda or the Easter Rising that the image of the Irish Catholic soldier became discredited; the debate on the extension of conscription to Ireland, along with unionist and British press discourses concerning this issue, significantly contested the adequacy of nationalist Ireland’s war effort, with direct implications for the image of its soldiers.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationA World at War, 1911-1949
Subtitle of host publicationExplorations in the Cultural History of War
EditorsCatriona Pennell, Filipe Ribeiro de Meneses
Number of pages25
ISBN (Electronic)978-90-04-39354-7
ISBN (Print)978-90-04-27667-3
Publication statusPublished - 21 Mar 2019

Publication series

NameHistory of Warfare

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