"...and now the shells fall thick and fast"

The Library of University College Dublin

Documenting WWI: a UCD Library Cultural Heritage exhibition

November 11th, 2018 marks the 100th anniversary of the armistice between the Allies and Germany, ending World War I.

The Central Powers (Germany, Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria and the Ottoman Empire) fought against, and were defeated by, the Allied Powers (the United Kingdom, France, Russia, Italy, Romania, Japan and the United States).

An estimated nine million combatants and seven million civilians died as a direct result of the war, millions more became refugees.

This exhibition commemorates Ireland’s involvement in the war, using archives, publications and recorded interviews held in the collections of UCD Archives, UCD Special Collections, the National Folklore Collection, and UCD Digital Library.

Professor of National Economics, UCD, Member of Parliament (MP), and poet, Tom Kettle (1880–1916) was in Belgium to procure arms on behalf of the Irish Volunteers when the First World War broke out. He took a commission in the Royal Dublin Fusiliers. After the Easter Rising and the murder of Francis Sheehy-Skeffington, he asked to be sent to the Front.

He was killed on the eve of the Battle of Ginchy on the Somme, 9 September 1916.

His body was never recovered.

[UCD Special Collections CUR P 41]

Kettle reported on the war, and his papers include examinations of the evidence of atrocities committed by Germany against Belgium.

“…I propose to prove,—on evidence…that, once in the war, she [Germany] conducted it in Belgium and France with a planned barbarity…”

[UCDA LA34/381 Papers of Tom Kettle]

Field message from Tom Kettle to Lts J.H. Bird and W.H. Boyd, outlining a plan to attack German positions. [c.1916]

“…Following received from Battalion (aaa begins) 1 There are M. Gun positions at T 19-b-6 ½.9 and T.13.d.1.7. Bombers should be told ff to try and get at them before they can get guns into action after barrage passes. 2 Co[mpan]ys will have to make a right incline at beginning of advance for a short distance 3 If at time of advance of 4th wave of R.G.R. and R.M.F the 8th [Dubs] on our right proceed to creep forward from shell-hole to shell-hole our lines will do likewise the object being to be as close as possible to our creeping barrage 4 OC Bath will take up position in rear of 4th wave when Bath advances & if possible will make a HQ in Ginchy position of which will be notified to Co[mpan]ys by runners 5 Unless further orders are issued Co[mpan]ys when relieved will move independently S.W. towards Railway and thence via Trônes Wood to the Guillemont-Montauban Rd. and on to Montauban and S towards the [crates]. Arrangements will if possible be made to have them met by guides at Montauban. [] Time 4.45 p.m. Time of our advance 5.25p.m. unless we creep forward in conjunction with the 8h R.D.F. in which case we move by them and halt till 5.25 p.m. near position then held by R.G.R. aaa ends. Please organise so as to have three or four bombers on each of your flanks. To 2/ Lt. Bird Please try to get in touch with a Co[mpan]y and arrange to have movements of 8 R.D.F. communicated to you at once. Communicate the message to Sergt. Kelly. Arrange to have two or three men on the alert and let the rest sleep. It will help to keep them under cover. From T.M. Kettle O.C. B. Co[mpan]y"

[UCDA LA34/407 Papers of Tom Kettle]

Witnessed handwritten codicil to Kettle’s will and fragment of letter from Kettle to ‘J.J.’ [O’Meara?]. 4 August 1916

“I came from Westland Row practically direct to the front line, and have been there ever since. Anybody who tells you that he likes it may be fit to sign an affidavit, but the truth is not in him. Chalk, lime, condensed milk, diabolical torturings of the air with unimaginable noises, and blood—too much of it—are so far my main experience. We sleep on two sandbags and four ammunition boxes each. And the accompaniments, the bedfellows, the neighbours of sleepless nights! Like France I am an invaded country. The Royal Wurtemberg machine gun corps of mosquitoes, co-operate in a vigorous offensive with the Silesian lice and the third division of Frankfurt ants, while the Prussian Rat Guards and the Imperial Austrian Mouse rangers, lent for the occasion, distinguish themselves by sporadic raids. … I hear one of my colleagues chanting softly to himself a composition of mine: Take me from the din of conflict/To some green and quiet shore,/Where the pip-squeaks pip nor squeak not/Nor the H.E. heavies roar/Where the Minnies ...”

[UCDA LA34/398 Papers of Tom Kettle]

Final letter from Tom Kettle to his wife, Mary. 3 September 1916.

“…My dearest Wife, The long-expected is now close at hand. I was at Mass & Communion this morning at 6.00, the camp is broken up, and the column is about to move. It is no longer indiscreet to say that we are to take part in one of the biggest attacks of the war. Many will not come back. Should that be God’s design for me you will not receive this letter until afterwards. I want to thank you for the love and kindness you spent and all but wasted on me. There was never in all the world a dearer woman or a more perfect wife and adorable mother...”


[UCDA LA34/402 Papers of Tom Kettle]

"...My heart cries for you and Betty whom I may never see again. I think even that it is perhaps better that I should not see you again. God bless and keep you! If the last sacrifice is ordained think that in the end I wiped out all the old stains. Tell Betty her daddy was a soldier and died as one. My love, now at last clean will find a way to you. Ever your husband, Tom…”

[UCDA LA34/402 Papers of Tom Kettle]

War Office Telegram. 19 September 1916.

Telegram informs Mary Kettle that her husband was killed in action.

[UCDA LA34/424 Papers of Tom Kettle]

Dorothy Emerson, Leinster Road, Co. Dublin, explains the basis of the First World War superstition regarding the lighting of matches. Her youngest brother fought with the Second Battalion, Royal Munster Fusiliers. She speaks of a letter from him, written at the front, saying “you can’t keep an Irishman out of a war.”

[National Folklore Collection, UFP0258, 23m 10s–25m 00s]

WWI Postcard also held by the National Folklore Collection.

Collector Móna Nic Lochlainn interviews Dorothy Emerson, aged 84, in March 1980

This painting of Fr Francis Gleeson, chaplain to the Royal Munster Fusiliers, giving general absolution to the troops, was commissioned by Mrs Victor Rickard for the book ‘The Story of the Munsters.’ Mrs Victor Rickard, formerly Jessica Louisa Moore, was the author of over forty popular novels, three of which are set during the Great War. She lost her husband Victor Rickard, who was an officer in the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Munster Fusiliers, at the battle of Aubers Ridge in May 1915.

[UCD Special Collections]


Fr Gleeson’s account of the general absolution, from his war diary is also shown. 8th May 1915 - "Gave Absolution to Batt. during rest on road."

[Courtesy of the Dublin Diocesan Archives]

“It has been decreed by the Power that rules the destiny of men and nations that the call of the bugle make the heart of Ireland glad.

There was real adventure in their lives that morning; the actual vital essence of it was touched by the rank and file of the marching men for abstract safety as a condition to be desired has never entered very much into the Celtic vision of what life can give at those moments when it is at its best.”

(Page 8. The Story of the Munsters, held by UCD Special Collections)

“The men swarmed over the parapets and raced across the fields, carrying their heavy equipment and following their officers over the shell scarred, churned up earth.

Strands of barbed wire beset their way and the ground was broken by great shell-holes.

Before them, from the German trenches, the machine guns hammered out their deadly message of welcome.”

(Page 25. The Story of the Munsters, held by UCD Special Collections)

“The Munsters pushed up the winding trenches to the front line, exchanging a word or two as they went and relying, as all men do in a time of crisis, upon those unexplained resources that stand for all that is best in a soldier.

When they reached the front line the leading company was blocked, for the trenches were full of men, with their faces coloured an ashen blue.

Some were dead and others unconscious for they were helpless victims of gas fumes.”

(Page 49. The Story of the Munsters, held by UCD Special Collections)

James Mitchell describes experiencing a gas shelling, which he cured by drinking a quart of water. He provides a vivid description of rats in the trenches and how they were an “addition” to the soldiers. Rats could smell the gas before the humans could.

[National Folklore Collection, T0518, 9m 23s–12m 44s]

WWI Postcard also held by the National Folklore Collection

Collector Michael J. Murphy interviews James Mitchell, Drumahaire, Co. Leitrim, aged 77, in July 1970

Michael MacWhite (1883–1958) joined the French Foreign Legion in 1913 and saw action on the battlefields of France, Greece and Turkey. He was wounded at Gallipoli and Macedonia and received the Croix de Guerre three times for his valour in combat.

He returned to Dublin and offered his services to the fledgling Dáil Éireann. MacWhite retired in 1950 with the personal rank of Ambassador, having served Ireland as a diplomat for 30 years.

[UCDA P194/ 736 Papers of Michael MacWhite, used by permission]

Description by MacWhite of life in the trenches during World War I when he fought with the French Foreign Legion. 11 October 1916.

“…Six days in this mud and slush. Six nights on the parapet searching for the sleep that never comes. With aching bones and clattering teeth we lay there in our sodden garments waiting – waiting for the message from beyond. And yet we curse the skulking moon as she laughs at us through those ragged clouds. We curse the sun and stars. We curse ourselves and God for keeping alive the ebbing embers of hope in our bosoms. And yet that hope, that longing, that faith that keeps us still when movements would bring solace is but as molten ashes in our arid brains. Death alone lives in our midst. He presides at every motion of our body. He sits in every watching post and with his thrilling chant accompanies every shell. From out of the trench wall his fleshless skull is protruding and his alienated fingers point as it were to the whistling bell like a horrid nightmare. We feel him pushing into the abyss where Satan reigns..."

[P194/7 Papers of Michael MacWhite, used by permission]

"...The hand of dawn is in the eastern sky and now the shells fall thick and fast. Pandemonium is let loose and in anticipation of the day we enter our dugouts where we anchor in a metre of mud. And now the buzz of the telephone is heard. Faces brutalised by fatigue and misery light up a little while the corporal cries out that we are relieved but as I repeat the commandant’s orders on the wire there is an agony of silence. “Preparez-pour-l’assaut-á-midi-cinq” – and the artillery thunders until we can no longer hear our own voices. Death claims another hostage and yet another. The end of the trench has been blown up. The cook who sat there need[s] no gravedigger’s tools to make him a home. Who shall be the next? …”

[P194/7 Papers of Michael MacWhite, used by permission]

Certificate issued by the Commandant of the depot at Sidi-bel-Abbès, Algeria, 1st Foreign Regiment. 6 August 1917.The Commandant recommends that Michael MacWhite be decorated after being wounded in action.

[UCDA P194/3 Papers of Michael MacWhite, used by permission]

Postcard with photograph of Michael MacWhite and a German prisoner-of-war [c.1918]. On the back of the postcard, MacWhite writes “MacWhite escorting a German prisoner-of-war to be interrogated.”

[UCDA P194/737 Papers of Michael MacWhite, used by permission]

Michael Moynihan studied at University College Dublin, where he won a number of major scholarships and exhibitions.

In January 1910, after successfully sitting the competitive exams for the Inland Revenue, he joined the civil service. In March 1914, he joined the Civil Service Rifles, a unit of the British Territorial Army. When war broke out, he remained with this unit and did not return to the civil service. As a territorial unit, the Civil Service Rifles were restricted to home duties within the United Kingdom.

In 1916 Moynihan decided to sign up for foreign service despite his mother’s opposition; and he went to France at the end of June 1916 as a private in the London Regiment. In 1917 he received a commission as a second lieutenant and joined the 8th (Irish) Battalion of the King’s Liverpool Regiment which was fighting in north-east France around Ypres.

He was killed on 3 June 1918 and is buried in Doullens cemetery, north of Amiens.

[UCDA P57/239 Papers of Michael Moynihan]

Michael Moynihan writing to his mother, 10 January 1918.

"...We continue to live a quiet uneventful life here. There is scarcely any fighting activity at the moment. The weather is against us for one thing. Yesterday there was a heavy fall of snow but during the night it thawed ....

The situation as regards peace looks at the moment more hopeful. Lloyd George's speech opens the door for a conference & there is little doubt that the German people will, now that they see peace approaching in the East, insist that it shall be general. Everyone out here is optimistic about the prospect and there is an undoubted feeling in the air that the war is coming to a close.”

[UCDA P57/65 Papers of Michael Moynihan]

Michael Moynihan writing to his brother, John, 2 March 1918

“The events of world importance amidst which we live must of necessity overshadow everything else in our minds, not only because of the personal interest we have in them, but also because their meaning and their gravity are more immediately obvious to us than anything else. The humblest private here understands and thinks more about international, than he ever did about domestic politics. So it comes about that I see Ireland, as it were, through the wrong end of a telescope ...

To be more concrete, the question that agitates you in Ireland is as to the wisdom of alternate policies of Sinn Fein, Parliamentarianism, or Unionism, from the Irish point of view. I, on the other hand, have to endeavour to justify the existence of an Irish point of view at all.”

[UCDA P57/229 Papers of Michael Moynihan]

Letter from H.H. Asquith, British Prime Minister, to T.M. Healy, M.P., thanking him for his condolences on the death of his son, Raymond, who was killed on the Somme. 22 September 1916.

“My dear Healy, Thank you with all my heart: you are a true friend. That upon which I had built all my hopes has been taken away. It was a glorious end; and it is not they who, still young & unblemished, have gone to rest, [or] perhaps to some higher form of work, who deserve pity, but we who with broken ideals remain, and wait. Yours always [], H.H. Asquith”

[UCDA P6/B/53 Papers of T.M. Healy]

Letter from Lady Augusta Gregory to Joseph Maunsell Hone thanking him for his sympathies on the death of her son Robert. 19 February [?].

“… Dear Mr. Hone—Thank you very much for your sympathy in our great sorrow, & for what you say about Robert—Yes, he had this clear, generous, disentangling mind—and I have missed it sorely these last years since he left us—I was so [used] to submit tangled questions to his [bright] [] —and now I can never again have this help. His squadron writes in the same way, of his kindness & impartiality—and his Colonel & others of his ‘splendid courage’ and fine intellect—& the Chaplin of his wonderful help & influence—My heart breaks when I think of the loss to his own boy of the father who could have helped him so well in work & play—Poor Margaret is quite crushed—they were wrapped up in each other—She thanks you for your messages of sympathy & is touched by them—it is hard for her to take up life again. He loved the pastures of the Air—& wrote in such great heart to the last—[Much] thanks to you & your wife. Fondly yours, A Gregory”

[UCDA P229/67 Papers of Joseph Maunsell Hone]

Major Robert Gregory was killed on 23 January 1918 while serving as a pilot in Italy. His death inspired Yeat’s poems ‘An Irish Airman Foresees his Death’, ‘In Memory of Major Robert Gregory’ and ‘Shepherd and Goatherd’.

Letter from Francis Ledwidge, Londonderry to Joseph Maunsell Hone. 1 September 1916.

“Dear Mr Hone, Not having heard from you lately, I thought I might request you to let me know what poem you have selected for your anthology. I am going to France soon & would like to know the destiny of my work as I may not ever return to see it in the better days to be. Yours faithfully, F. E. Ledwidge”

[UCDA P229/91 Papers of Joseph Maunsell Hone]

Ledwidge was killed during the Third Battle of Ypres on 31 July 1917.

Cover of the First Report of the Irish War Hospital Supply group. Irish Bogs contain an abundance of a particular type of moss, known as sphagnum, which has antiseptic and absorbent qualities. The Irish War Hospital Supply organisation managed the collection of sphagnum moss from bogs all over the country. This organisation was led by women and depended on female volunteers. The husbands, fathers, sons and brothers of these women would have been members of the Irish regiments of the British Army.

[Report held by UCD Special Collections]

The Central Sphagnum Depot for Ireland was located in the Royal College of Science for Ireland on Merrion Street in Dublin. Here, volunteers graded the moss and sewed it into cloth to make surgical pads and dysentery pads as well as pillows and cushions.

"The sphagnum moss, utilised in the making of the sphagnum dressings in the depot, has been collected and to a large extent dried and picked free of foreign matter by voluntary workers in the country, who are registered members of the depot. During the year, 1171 sacks of moss have been received from 200 collectors, the greater proportion being supplied by 76 regular workers. The activities of this department are entirely dependent on this supply of material."

[Report held by UCD Special Collections]

Map showing the Sphagnum collecting centres on the Island of Ireland.

“Each sub-depot is responsible for procuring its own supply of raw material and Map 1 shows the collecting stations which supply the College of Science.”

(Page 8, Third Annual report of the Sphagnum, Department of the Irish War Hospital Supply Organisation).

[Report held by UCD Special Collections]

“By letters to the public papers and to private individuals a band of moss collectors was organised from almost every county in the South and West and several in the North and East of Ireland, and these collectors have kept pace with the rapidly increasing demands. Specimen dressings were sent to various surgeons at the Front etc., and gradually orders began to come in”

(Pages 3 – 4 First Annual report of the Sphagnum Department of the Irish War Hospital Supply organisation.)

[Report held by UCD Special Collections]

Photograph of the needlework department of the Central Sphagnum depot at the Royal College of Science for Ireland.

“Too much emphasis cannot be laid upon the necessity of keeping the standard of preparation in all cases very high. To achieve this, unlimited time and patience is required. Both have been ungrudgingly given.”

(Page 9, Third Annual report of the Sphagnum, Department of the Irish War Hospital Supply Organisation).

[Report held by UCD Special Collections]

Moss from the bogs of Ireland, following their preparation in the Royal College of Science depot were distributed to hospitals as far away as Palestine and India.

“From my personal experience of your Sphagnum Dressings I have not words enough to speak of their value. I only want to prove it in all hospitals and dressing stations that it may be an everlasting benefit to humanity.” …

“One secretary in Paris has begged us to send out 10,000 more at once.” … “One appreciates all the thought and care these must have cost to those who made them.”

(Pages 12 – 13, Third Report of the Irish War Hospital Supply Organisation.)

[Report held by UCD Special Collections]

At age 17, Louis Powderly falsified his age in order to join the army, and served for two years during WWI. He describes the great flu epidemic of 1918 and witnessing 47 funerals pass him by while he was on sentry in Chatham, England. His father went to see Alfie Byrne, who was the Lord Mayor of Dublin at the time, when he learned his son had joined the army. Powderly was subsequently sent to the Fourth Royal Irish Dragoon Guards, a cavalry regiment.

[National Folklore Collection, UFP0390, 10m 06s–13m 23s]

WWI Postcard also held by the National Folklore Collection

Collector Séamas Mac Philib interviews Louis Powderly, Killester, Co. Dublin, aged 80, in May 1980

The British government passed the Military Service Act in January 1916. Single men aged 18–40 years old were liable to be called up for military service. The exemption for married men ended in June 1916. The age limit was also eventually raised to 51 years old.

Conscription was heavily resisted in Ireland and was never applied.

Anti-conscription election handbill from Sinn Féin candidate Dr Pat McCartan.

In early 1918 the British government decided to introduce conscription to Ireland. This policy met with great resistance. To attempt to counteract this, it was promised that Home Rule would be put in place. This was not a successful strategy. This election pamphlet depicts Unionist Edward Carson’s opposition to Home Rule — even for the sake of conscription.

[UCD Special Collections 34 Va 4/75]

Sinn Féin put their anti-conscription stance at the front and centre of their 1918 General Election manifesto.

This pamphlet criticises the ineffectiveness of MPs from the Irish Parliamentary Party, who did not succeed in stopping the British government extending the Military Service Bill to Ireland.

Though the bill was successful, the level of resistance in Ireland meant that conscription was never implemented.

[UCD Special Collections 34 Va 4/12]

Booklet entitled Ireland’s Case Against Conscription, reprinting a speech by Éamon de Valera

De Valera notes in a statement to his secretary Marie O’Kelly in 1962, that the published text was his rough draft which Robert Brennan “got hold of” and “was a very different [case] to that which I would have sent. It was a ‘pussyfoot type of case’ ”.

[UCDA P150/604 Papers of Eamon de Valera, reproduced by kind permission of UCD-OFM Partnership]

Copybook of press cuttings labelled ‘Protestant Protest against conscription Press cuttings April 18 to May 18 1918’.

Cutting from the “Freeman”, May 6 1918:

"Sir—As presumably all Nationalists have already signed the National Pledge, perhaps those who do not belong to the Church of the majority of the Irish people will let Miss Nelly O’Brien know they have signed, that she and those working with her may have proof that a proportion of Irish Protestants are, now as ever, working in cordial union with the National leaders, lay and clerical, for the attainment of clean and honest government on national lines.—faithfully yours, S,C, Harrison, 13 Mounty Square, Dublin. 3rd May 1918.”

[UCDA P150/604 Papers of Eamon de Valera, reproduced by kind permission of UCD-OFM Partnership]

Example of a pledge form to resist conscription signed by William Kelly, Archbishop’s Lodge, Drumcondra, Dublin.

[UCDA P150/604 Papers of Eamon de Valera, reproduced by kind permission of UCD-OFM Partnership]

“Your country stands in the shadow of a great disaster. Lord French, the hero of Ypres, the British General who in August, 1914, set out to march to Berlin, and succeeded after three years and nine months in getting as far as Dublin, is slowly and surely perfecting his military organisation for the purpose of imposing the English Conscription Act in Ireland.

…It is the intention of the English War Cabinet to enforce Conscription on Ireland despite all speeches and statements to the contrary. They only await their own time.

…Therefore get ye ready! Your country stands in the shadow of a great trial and the holy martyrs of Ireland whose names will never die are looking on. The future is dark and uncertain, but the pillars of Empire are not what they were. We have helped to shake them. To us may be given the glory of bringing them tumbling down. God grant it!

A DIA SAOR EIRE” (God, Free Ireland)

[UCDA P150/604 Papers of Eamon de Valera, reproduced by kind permission of UCD-OFM Partnership]

Signed by or on behalf of Joseph Devlin, John Dillon, Michael Egan, Thomas Johnson, William O’Brien, T.M. Healy, William O’Brien, Thomas Kelly, John MacNeill, Éamon de Valera and Arthur Griffith.

“… When, a century and a half ago, the American Colonies dared to assert the ancient principle that the subject should not be taxed without the consent of his representatives, England strove to crush them. To-day England threatens to crush the people of Ireland if they do not accept a tax. Not in money but in blood, against the protest of their representatives. … During the American Revolution, the champions of your liberties appealed to the Irish Parliament against British aggression, and asked for a sympathetic judgement on their action. What the verdict was, history records. To-day it is our turn to appeal to the people of America. … If the Irish race had been conscriptable by England in the war against the United Colonies, is it certain that your Republic would to-day flourish in the enjoyment of its noble Constitution? …”

[UCDA P150/606 Papers of Eamon de Valera, reproduced by kind permission of UCD-OFM Partnership]

Extract from Dick Walsh’s statement concerning the ‘Plan for execution of members of the British Cabinet and of other persons in London hostile to Ireland 1918 in event of enforcement of conscription’

Dick Walsh’s statement: “…The actual decision of the Executive was that the most effective blow the Volunteers could strike in defence of their country to defeat conscription and the most destructive to the British was to make a personal attack on the lives of members of the British Cabinet, and to kill every one of them if possible. It was suggested that the most suitable place to carry out the operation and at the same time, the most dramatic and accessible, was in the British House of Commons in London. …” Walsh claims that Eamon de Valera supported this plan. De Valera disputes this in a statement made to his secretary Marie O’Kelly in 1964.

[UCDA P150/609 Papers of Eamon de Valera, reproduced by kind permission of UCD-OFM Partnership]

James Mitchell tells his story of joining the British army while working in Wales and being arrested when he arrived late on his first day of service.

Before the war he was a psychiatric nurse in Bridgend, and he tells how people would be “throwing things and spitting at you” for not joining up.

Mitchell spent three and a half years in France, fighting in Ypres and Flanders. He tells of a wounded Scottish man whom he carried into a dugout which was later bombed by the Germans.

[National Folklore Collection, T0518, 2m 50s–8m 00s]

WWI Postcard also held by the National Folklore Collection

Collector Michael J. Murphy interviews James Mitchell, Drumahaire, Co. Leitrim, aged 77 in July 1970

George Gavan Duffy notes in the preface that the booklet was written ‘at the request of a few friends who were impressed by the extent and prevalence of the current misapprehensions concerning Military Service Acts.’

[UCDA P152/22 Papers of George Gavan Duffy, reproduced by kind permission of UCD-OFM Partnership]

Thomas Ruddy worked as a labourer in Scotland and England during World War One. He discusses the introduction of passports and having to go “on the run” to avoid conscription. Refers to Lord Derby’s Scheme, which was introduced during World War I in 1915 by the Director General of Recruiting, Edward Stanley, 17th Earl of Derby. The scheme would demonstrate whether British manpower goals could be met by volunteers only, or if conscription was necessary.

[National Folklore Collection, T2410, 22m 52s–24m 44s]

WWI Postcard also held by the National Folklore Collection

Collector Anne O’Dowd interviews Thomas Ruddy, Achill, Co. Mayo, aged 79, in March 1980

The Armistice of 11 November 1918 between the Allies and Germany ended the fighting on land, sea and air in World War I.

Previous armistices had removed Bulgaria (Armistice of Salonica, 29 September 1918), the Ottoman Empire (Armistice of Mudros, 30 October 1918) and the Austro-Hungarian Empire (Armistice of Villa Giusti, 3 November 1918) from the theatre of war.

A formal state of war between the Allies and Germany persisted for another seven months, until the signing of the Treaty of Versailles, on 28 June 1919.

Letter from Éamon de Valera, Lincoln Jail to his wife, Sinéad. 11 November 1918.

I have just heard the sirens and bells which announce that the armistice with Germany has been signed. It will bring relief to many an anxious heart—it will bring joy to many—but how many homes will the joybells cease ringing will be plunged into a grief which at the moment is not felt but which will be crushing when those who remain return home and it is realised that those who have fallen will never return. The thoughts that occur to me here today would fill volumes—we have leisure for thought calm sober thought—thoughts on the vanities of men and of Empires—vanities which the lessons of this war will not dispel. A hundred years ago ‘twas Napoleon this time ‘twas Germany—whose turn will it be next? Many nations like many many individuals when during this struggle they were sick were resolved to be monks now they are well we shall see what they will become. I can see with a cynic’s eyes but I have not a cynic’s tongue to express what I see. I should not weary you with this. The huge happenings through which we are passing will make their own suggestions to you—and thoughts and feelings like these are incommunicable. For the sake of the women of the world at any rate I am glad it is over. They it is who have suffered most. Their imaginings have been far worse than the worst horrors the men have had to endure. Those of the victorious nations will forget for a time their nightmare in the joy of victory but alas for those in the nations that have been vanquished.”

[UCDA P183/57 Eamon de Valera Private Correspondence © Reproduced by permission]

Letter from Éamon de Valera, Lincoln Jail to his mother, Catherine Wheelwright. 28 November 1918.

“I am sure you are all relieved that the war is over. If America holds to the principles enunciated by her President during the war she will land a noble place in the history of nations—her sons will have every reason to be proud of their motherland. These principles too are the basis of true statecraft—a firm basis that will bear the stress of time—but will the President be able to get them accepted but others whose entry into the war was on motives less unselfish? His task is difficult for, the nations that have suffered grievously through the war —even were their reasons for taking up arms the very best—are likely to be heady now with the wine of victory—desirous only of revenge. —and then another treaty of Versailles with a future war in store. So far indications are that he has succeeded —succeeded certainly fare beyond anything which history would give warrant for anticipating. What an achievement should he succeed in getting established a common law for nations — resting on the will of the nations—making national duels as rare as duels between individual persons are at present! If that be truly is aim may God steady his hand. To me it seemed that a complete victory for either side would have made it impossible almost.

…I hope Uncle’s children and Aunt’s have come through the fighting. It is particularly hard on those who are now receiving the news of the deaths of relatives. After the armistice it seems so awful. Whoever caused the war humanity has paid a heavy price for it.”

[UCDA P150/ 173 Papers of Eamon de Valera, reproduced by kind permission of UCD-OFM Partnership]

In 1922, Hugh Kennedy was appointed Ireland’s first Attorney General. This pass to admit a visitor to the Colonial Office on Armistice Day is among his personal papers.

[UCDA P4/76 Papers of Hugh Kennedy]

Photograph Armistice Day, London, [c.1922].

Commemoration at the Cenotaph. Kevin O’Higgins, Minister for Justice, is second from right in the second row of government ministers.

[UCDA P197/186 Papers of Kevin O’Higgins]

In this account, Lt-Colonel Manners O’Connell-Fitzsimons describes his experience in the trenches. He saw action soon after the “Great German breakthrough” of March 1917 and goes on to describe being wounded in the stomach by a bullet that ricocheted off his belt buckle, in October of that year. He describes how he learned the war was over and spending armistice day in London with his mother and friends.

[National Folklore Collection, UFP0212, 16m 45s – 22m 50s]

WWI Postcard also held by the National Folklore Collection

Collector Séamas Mac Philib interviews Lieutenant Colonel Manners O’Connell-Fitzsimons, Glencullen, Co. Dublin, aged 80, in May 1980

The aftermath of WWI saw profound changes to national boundaries, national identities, and society.

The war had a deep impact on cultural memory, finding its initial expression in the building of memorials across Europe.

The Treaty of Versailles brought additional consequences.

Families dealt with the absence of their husbands, sons and brothers and soldiers lived with the consequences of shell shock, now recognised as a type of post-traumatic stress disorder.

The search began, and continued, for the burial places of loved ones killed during the war.

Úna Ward discusses “The Mad Mac Sweeney” who suffered from shell-shock, as well as other Dublin street characters who were possible veterans of WWI.

[National Folklore Collection, UFP0481,16m 15s–17m 44s]

WWI Postcard also held by the National Folklore Collection.

Collector Éilís Ní Dhuibhne interviews Úna Ward, The Liberties, Co. Dublin, aged 61, in June 1980

University College Dublin War List

UCD published a War List of staff and students who served during World War I, in its calendar for 1919/20.

It includes a Roll of Honour of those killed in action, or who died on active service; a list of those awarded military distinctions; past and present students of the college and of the Medical School, Cecilia St, serving 1914–19 and a list of honorary war degrees conferred on past and present students of the college for service in H.M. forces.

[Held by UCD Archives]

Click for map visualisation of the burial sites for the UCD students and staff who died in WWI (opens a new window)

Photograph of Theo Dillon on honeymoon in Venice. 21 June 1926

Theobald Wolf Tone Dillon (1898 –1946) graduated in medicine from UCD in 1921. He was awarded a travelling studentship in pathology. However, for some time before this he had not been in good health and it was suspected that he had bone tuberculosis. He spent several years in sanatoria in France and Switzerland. He was appointed Professor of Pharmacology and Therapeutics in 1936.

In his letters to his father, John Dillon, written from France and Switzerland, he comments extensively on politics in Ireland and Europe, including on the consequences of the Treaty of Versailles .

[UCDA P126/136 Papers of T.W.T. Dillon]

Letter from Theo Dillon, La Vallerette, Leysin, Switzerland to his father, John Dillon. 28 August 1923.

“From your point of view, & from mine, I can understand that the Treaty of Versailles and all its results are pernicious. From that point of view—the Ruhr occupation is neither more nor less pernicious in principle that the other occupations carried out in 1921 by the English—though its effects are obviously more unfortunate. But, what appears to me intolerable is that the English, and more particularly, the Conservatives should take the tone they do with France, when their past history since the war lends very good grounds for the belief that as long as they thought there was anything to be got out of Germany there were quite prepared to do what France is doing now.”

[UCDA P126/45 Papers of T.W.T. Dillon]

Letter from Theo Dillon, La Vallerette, Leysin, Switzerland to his father, John Dillon. 4 October 1923

“I don’t know if you noticed a leader in the Times of [Tuesday] 2nd in which it was said that England’s European policy had always been—and is now—the Balance of Power—& that she always took the side of the weak against the strong—a euphemistic way of saying ‘backing Germany against France’. Such an article coming after all that has happened is the more astounding as it justifies full the accusations of the French against the English. But apart altogether from that side of the question—is it not clear that the Balance of Power is a most pernicious doctrine—as understood & practised in the years before the war—a doctrine which leads inevitably to more terrible wars than any other local cause, for they involve all the powers which go to preserve the balance—incidentally England. … At the present moment England is making herself sufficiently nasty to lose all her friends, and is doing no good whatsoever. ... You have probably seen that the Bavarian President has already declared that the Treaty of Versailles is broken & will no longer be observed. I believe that he is perfectly right but the awkward thing for England is that he quotes Curzon’s famous note on the illegality of the Ruhr occupation to prove his contention—while Baldwin is doing his best to bury the memory of that ill-fated document & start afresh.”

[UCDA P126/49 Papers of T.W.T. Dillon]

Christy Bolger’s father served in Flanders with the British Army during the War. He describes how his father was shot in the eye, leading to his premature death a couple of years after returning to Ireland. While home on leave from the front on one occasion, his mother saved her husband’s life by pleading with the IRA not to execute him.

[National Folklore Collection, UFP0009, 10m 23s–12m 22s]

WWI Postcard also held by the National Folklore Collection

Collector Séamas Mac Philib interviews Christy Bolger, Raheny, Co. Dublin, aged 55, in November 1980

Notice that the permanent headstones have now been erected in Doullens Cemetery, where Michael Moynihan is buried.

[UCDA P57/12 Papers of Michael Moynihan]

Letter from J.G. Blake, Imperial War Graves Commission, 82 Baker Street, London, to Mary Kettle. 5 July 1924.

There is significant correspondence in Tom Kettle’s papers concerning the search for Kettle’s grave, following his death on the Somme in 1916. The Imperial War Graves Commission informs Mary Kettle in 1924 that it was not possible to locate her husband’s grave.

[UCDA LA34/423 Papers of Tom Kettle].

Photo postcard of the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing of the Somme. September 1963.

Given to Mary Kettle. Noted on the back of the card is the fact that the memorial is inscribed with 73,000 names, including that of Tom Kettle.

[UCDA LA34/120 Papers of Tom Kettle]

Anne Espie here speaks of her father’s drowning at sea during World War One while serving on a mine sweeper off Scotland. She goes on to discuss how this impacted the family and her childhood as she was the oldest child and had to help raise her siblings. She also describes her memories of the 1916 Rising.

[National Folklore Collection, UFP0260, 7m 30s–11m 00s]

WWI Postcard also held by the National Folklore Collection

Collector Seamus Sisk interviews Anne Espie, Monkstown, Co. Dublin, aged 78, in March 1980
Credits: Story

UCD Archives
UCD-OFM Partnership
P229 Papers of Joseph Maunsell Hone
P197 Papers of Kevin O’Higgins
P194 Papers of Michael MacWhite
P183 Eamon de Valera Private Correspondence
P152 Papers of George Gavan Duffy
P150 Papers of Eamon de Valera
P126 Papers of T.W.T. Dillon
P57 Papers of Michael Moynihan
P4 Papers of Hugh Kennedy
LA34 Papers of Tom Kettle
P6 Papers of T.M. Healy
Kate Manning, Principal Archivist

UCD Special Collections
Evelyn Flanagan, Head of Special Collections
CUR P Curran Collection - Photographs (online UCD Digital Library)

National Folklore Collection
Dr Críostóir Mac Cárthaigh, Director
Luke Murphy, MA
Urban Folklore Project
Postcards of the First World War (online UCD Digital Library)

UCD Digital Library
Audrey Drohan, Senior Library Assistant
Daniel Montes, Library Assistant

UCD Library
Dr John Howard, Librarian
Carmel O'Sullivan, Associate Librarian

UCD Outreach
Catherine Bodey, Library Assistant
Joshua Clark, Assistant Librarian

UCD School of History
Dr Conor Mulvagh

Dublin Diocesan Archives
Noelle Dowling, Archivist
Fr Francis A. Gleeson Papers (online UCD Digital Library)

Google Cultural Institute
Izabela Palinska, Co-ordinator

Images reproduced by kind permission of the relevant copyright holders, where known

Credits: All media
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