Gallant Sons: Irishmen and the Great War

5 April – 30 April 2007
Main Building, Kildare Street

"Can you any longer resist the call?" (War/1914-18/12)"Can you any longer resist the call?" (War/1914-18/12)

Drawing on the Library’s printed, manuscript and visual collections this exhibition examined the experiences of some of the approx. 200,000 Irishmen who fought in the First World War.

A range of contemporary propaganda leaflets and colourful recruitment posters illustrated some of the motivations of those who volunteered to go to war. While many of these documents aimed to appeal to the moral and patriotic sensitivities of the potential recruit, others, such as a pamphlet detailing the separation allowance for soldiers’ wives and families, set out other motivating factors more bluntly.

While at war, time could often weigh heavily and many men sent letters home as a way of passing time as well as of making sense of their experiences. A selection of letters and postcards from the Library’s manuscript collection gave visitors an insight into a range of Irish experiences of the war: from the young Wicklow soldier, writing under heavy shell fire and convinced of his imminent death to the more senior officer who spent much of his time in relative comfort behind the scenes, running the family farm in Louth through letters to his wife. Other war correspondence included a War Office telegram informing a young wife of her husband’s death and poignant extracts from a 1916 diary, written in the form of a letter by a Dublin woman to her young son who had gone missing in action.

War Office telegram to Mrs. McDonnell, September 1918 (Ms. 27,816/7)War Office telegram to Mrs. McDonnell, September 1918 (Ms. 27,816/7)

The exhibition also examined the role of the army chaplain and looked in particular at the experience of Fr Willie Doyle, whose journals and letters home were published after his death at the Third Battle of Ypres in 1917. Displayed along with an obituary and other printed material relating to the priest was Fr Doyle’s entry in Ireland's Memorial Records (the Irish roll of dead, illustrated by Harry Clarke). Visitors had the opportunity to explore the Records in more detail by accessing a digitised version of the document, which they could search to see whether a relative had died in the war. This exhibition was mounted as part of the wider Dublin: One City, One Book initiative, which in 2007 looked at Sebastian Barry’s acclaimed WWI novel, A Long Long Way.

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