To mark the centenary of the ending of the Great War, the Society hosted a seminar titled; ‘The End of the Great War and Ireland in 1918’ which took place in the Killashee House Hotel on Saturday 10th November 2018. The seminar, which formed part of the National Calendar of Events, attracted a huge attendance which availed of the opportunity to listen first hand to an elite panel of six historians recalling and reflecting on the conflict, together with the enormous issues which faced Ireland in the decisive year of 1918.
The day began with a warm welcome by the Society’s President for the large attendance which included the Mayor of County Kildare Councillor Seán Power and the Chairman of the Decade of Commemoration Committee Councillor Padraig McEvoy, who declared the seminar formally underway. Under the Chairmanship of the Society’s President, Session One began with introduction of the first speaker, Professor Terence Dooley, Maynooth University.
Under the heading:
‘But when the armistice came at last, we seemed drained of all feeling and one felt nothing’: the Irish Big House and the Great War, 1914-18.’
Professor Dooley spoke about the 500 or so Irish families listed in the 5th edition of Burke’s Landed Gentry of Ireland, 82% were represented at the Front by at least one member of the family. Of those who fought, he said, approximately 25% did not return home and, of course, many others were physically or mentally scarred for life. Thus, the Great War had dramatic political, economic, and social consequences for Irish Big House families and many of the consequences of this were examined.
Dr Fionnuala Walsh, University College Dublin followed under the theme:
‘Women on the upward and onward move’
Dr Walsh referred to the time when the Great War broke out in 1914, that women in Ireland were mobilised to support the war effort and replace absent men in the workforce. She then proceeded to examine Irish women’s work, family life, bereavement during the Great War and the impact of the war on women’s role in society.
Following a short coffee break Session Two got underway under the chairmanship of Professor Raymond Gillespie who introduced Brig. General Joe Mulligan, GOC, Defence Forces Training Centre whose theme was:
‘Capability Development’ – Training for the Great War.
General Mulligan pointed out that ‘Operational Capability’ is a key prerequisite for a military force engaging in conflict. Developing this capability is acquired through an interdependent and interrelated framework combining Doctrine, Organisation, Training, Leadership and Education, Personnel, Facilities and Inter-operability. As the Curragh has been synonymous with the training of soldiers going back to mythological times including World War 1, the training of soldiers for the Great War was assessed.
Professor Gillespie then introduced local historian James Durney from the Local Studies, Genealogy & Archives, Newbridge Library who chose the theme:
‘1918, A Year of darkness and Light’
He referred to 1918 as being one of the most dramatic and decisive years of the last century. In Co. Kildare, and throughout Ireland, the repercussions of the German Spring Offensive resulted in the Conscription Crisis and a united front against British military policy. Also, the summer of 1918 and the Spanish Flu hitting Kildare and Ireland with devastating results. James’ assessment took account of all of these events in this decisive year on Ireland and Co. Kildare.
Following the break for Lunch the Chair was taken over for Session Three by Professor Marian Lyons who introduced Catriona Crowe, the former head of Special Projects at the National Archives of Ireland under the heading:
‘The Hammer and the Pen: the Development of Irish First Wave Feminism’
Catriona with her typical humorous approach dealt with the partial parliamentary female suffrage granted to women in the UK in 1918, whereby they voted for the first time in the December General Election held in 1918. The Representation of the People Act of 1918 was the result of a long series of campaigns, both reformist and militant, stretching back to the late eighteenth century. The ramifications of these events and how they effected Ireland were explored in detail.
Following this presentation Professor Lyons then introduced the keynote speaker Professor Diarmaid Ferriter, UCD whose theme was:
‘The Path of National Salvation?’ The Triumph of Sinn Féin in 1918
This lecture assessed the impact of Sinn Féin in Ireland exactly 100 years ago, the year it triumphed in the general election of 1918. Its victory inflicted a fatal blow to the Irish Parliamentary Party and side-lined the Labour Party. Diarmaid looked in detail at who Sinn Féin appealed to and why, the strategies and methods employed by the party and its leading figures as it sought to become a nationwide movement, its relationship with the Catholic Church and the attitude of the British government to an increasingly determined Irish republicanism.
The panel discussion that followed involved all six speakers. In response to Professor Lyons’ invitation many interesting subjects were raised. In particular, in relation to the Government’s decision to make history a non-compulsory subject which drew a very strong re-action from the full house. In response Catriona Crowe referred to the British Government having reversed its decision to row back. She said she and Diarmaid Ferriter had already testified to the Oireachtas on the matter, however, she felt that parents should be more vocal and ensure that history remains compulsory. In a response to the final question; ‘What would have happened had Germany been victorious?’; the response was more humorous; ‘we would of course speak German, drive on the opposite side of the road, not to mention trains and buses would come on time’.
In bringing the seminar to a close the President, speaking as co-ordinator, wished to thank most sincerely the six speakers and those who shared the duties of chairing the seminar with him further stating that they were all incredibly easy and a joy to work with. He said a special thanks was due to the Secretary, Bernadette Doyle for all her work in dealing with the huge bookings and queries, the Treasurer, Darina McCarthy for dealing with the financial matters, Mario, Karel and James at Newbridge library, Tom Keegan who was always on hand to help with the ‘heavy lifting’, Vice President, Siobhán McNulty and Minutes Secretary, Jacqueline Kelly who helped on the day especially with the speedy registration and settling the large attendance. Thanks was also due to the press, Lisa Kelly of Killashee House Hotel, Brian Vaughan of Mongey Communications, Barker & Jones for providing an opportunity for the acquisition of relevant books on the day and last but not least all who came from far and near to support the seminar and to remember those who died or suffered during the Great War.