The Cultural Legacies of the First World War in Ireland
Over 200,000 Irish volunteers from both sides of the political divide enlisted for service in the British Army between 1914 and 1918; and yet, in the subsequent near-century, and following Ireland’s independence, Nationalist Irish soldiers were all but written out of history. Irish involvement in the Great War was indeed extensive, but Ireland was a country divided by conflicting loyalties that was on the verge of civil war as war was declared in 1914. My research examines the cultural legacies of the First World War in Ireland and the impact that Irish politics and perceived hierarchies of sacrifice following the 1916 Easter Rising and Battle of the Somme had on the conflict’s place in national memory. It focuses on literary responses to the conflict either side of the border throughout the past century, examining the conflicting political narratives that hold one another in place, and how they are disrupted by Irish involvement in a war fought for an Empire from which Nationalists were trying to distance themselves. In ‘The Storyteller’, Walter Benjamin observes the peculiar phenomenon that soldiers returning from the First World War had ‘grown silent- not richer, but poorer in communicable experience’. My doctoral thesis will explore the silencing effects of the First World War on a group silenced by the political landscape which they returned to. How is this silence navigated in Ireland’s characteristically oral and literary culture? How are experiences communicated amidst a ‘national amnesia’, and how do political events inform national understanding of the conflict?