[Note: This survey is intended as a supplement to some conclusions drawn on fatalities in the afterword of the new revised edition of my book Irish Voices from the Great War]




To ascertain how many Irish-born names are included who fought with non-Irish units and to deduct these from the Irish-born total of 30,986 (source:



To establish how many fatalities occurred among those whose service originated in Ireland. To establish a fatality / enlistment ratio for purely Irish recruits – i.e. those Irishmen who joined up in Ireland or those Irishmen already in Irish regiments like the Royal Dublin Fusiliers, i.e. in the regular army or reserve.


A caveat – some of the Irish-born soldiers who died in British or non UK units may also have enlisted in Ireland. In, for example, a random sample of 1000 deaths of Irishmen who died serving in English regiments c.3.5% had transferred from Irish units and may well have been recruited in Ireland.


An additional caveat – the numbers recorded in the INWMR of those Irish-born soldiers who died in British units may not be exhaustive. There may be other Irishmen who died in British regiments whose names are not recorded.



Use of the invaluable Ireland’s Memorial Records page on the ‘In Flanders Fields’ website []


Basic search terms such as ‘Canada’ ‘USA’ ‘Lancashire’ ‘Royal Engineers’ etc. were entered and these were used to identify the numbers of Irish-born soldiers in British, Colonial and American units who have been included in the Irish memorial records


In the records of some soldiers there is an indication of previous units in which they served. Only units with which soldiers were serving at the time of their deaths were counted – this was to avoid the risk of double-counting


Where no place of birth was indicated [7405 instances] the soldier in question was not included in any count.








ENGLAND                              6044

SCOTLAND                             1290

WALES                                280

USA                                  13

CANADA                               53

INDIA                                11

AUSTRALIA                            20

NEW ZEALAND                          14

SOUTH AFRICA                         10


TOTAL                                7735


This means that 7735 names must be deducted from the total of 30,986 names in the Irish National War Memorial Records, designated as having been born in Ireland, in order to arrive at a tentative figure for Irish dead whose service actually originated in Ireland itself. As noted above this figure could err on the low side by around 3.5%.







However, it should also be noted when arriving at a tentative figure (no definitive figure is possible) that a significant percentage of the 7405 names in the INWM Records whose place of birth is not noted, were actually born in Ireland. On the basis of a ratio of 3:1 (Irish:Non Irish) for those whose country of origin is known we might well surmise that three-quarters of those 7405 men (5554) were born in Ireland.


This would give us an actual total of Irish-born of around 36,540 (30,986 + 5554)


From this we need to subtract 7735 – giving us a total of Irish-born serving in Irish units who died in the Great War of 28,805 – in other words an Irish fatality ratio of 1:7 – somewhat higher than the UK average of 1:8 (720,000 dead out of a serving complement of 5.7 million). It is worth noting that this figure is not far removed from the statistic of 27,405 given by the Irish Registrar General in the 1926 census as the number of Irish soldiers, excluding officers, who died on active service outside the UK between 1914-18. If deceased officers are added in the figure of 28,805 becomes even more plausible.


This of course does not take into account Irish fatalities in ‘colonial’ forces or in the US forces. The only figure that has, thus far, been independently researched, is that of Irish enlistment (c.6,000) and fatalities (c.900) in Australia undertaken by Prof Jeff Kildea. Work yet to be verified by this writer suggests that the equivalent US figure is 1200.







IRISH                      30,986

ENGLISH                    9,162

NONE GIVEN                 7,405

SCOTTISH                   1,357

WELSH                      314

INDIA  N                   82

USA                        41

CANADIAN                   36

AUSTRALIAN                 21

SOUTH AFRICAN              12



This is my grand-uncle Pat O’Reilly, Baileborough, Co.Cavan – died on the Somme in September 1916 – his Lives of the First World War Site is here

I’ve been getting a lot of questions about this – I’m no expert but I hope this helps.

If you are too daunted to do the work yourself I can recommend Gordon Power, military genealogist as one of the best researchers in this area. I have only met the guy once (last Saturday in Waterford Library at our Great War Roadshow) where he gave an amazing presentation) so I have no agenda and I’m not on a percentage of whatever fee he might charge. He can be emailed at




CAVEAT: 70% of the actual service records of WW1 soldiers were damaged or destroyed in the Blitz – so you may be disappointed in the quality and quantity of information available.


There is currently a plethora of websites willing to sell you information on your ancestor(s) who served. Often, however, there is no additional information available than details you can accumulate free of charge.





  1. Search under ‘Find War Dead’ – also select ‘war’ and ‘service’ (ie ‘Army’, ‘Navy’ etc) – [Smith, J]
  2. 2079 records match your search – here you will need to know the name of his regiment and, if possible, his service number – Click on name – more information available on cemetery





Imperial War Museum project. Essentially they are inviting you to add information to the personal web page they have created (one of 4.5 million so far) for a ‘remembered’. However, there is already some basic information on each soldier on their webpage.


  1. Search by name, unit or service number – ‘John Smith’
  2. 6552 results for ‘John Smith’ – choose the most likely one and click on the name – [British Army Royal Engineers Inland Waterways Transport, Service #220]
  3. Click on ‘Search Official Records’ – this may give date and place of birth
  4. Return to ‘Private John Smith’ homepage – click on Medal Index Card
  5. Select ‘? Facts were added in this source of evidence’


If you do have additional information / images of your ancestor do the world a favour and upload it onto this site for posterity.








NOTE: All the files below are available for inspection in The National Archive Reading Room in Kew in London


Unit War Diaries. (WO95)


These can be a mine of information [mostly typed and readable] or skimpy beyond belief. It’s the luck of the draw.


The good news is that some of this particular record series (WO95) has been digitized so the war diaries of battalions within the first 33 divisions of the army are available online. [Not much good if you want to research a relative in the 36th (Ulster) Division]


Search by going to and entering the regiment, battalion, brigade or division number in the box provided.


There may be a charge for downloading.



Medal Card Index (WO 372)


All soldiers who served overseas were entitled to a service medal of some description. In addition many earned medals for gallantry. Each of those who served overseas (male or female) had a dedicated medal card. There are over 5m of these in the British National Archives in Kew


A charge of £3.30 is incurred if you wish to view a .pdf of the actual card. This may contain additional information on the soldier who is the object of your research.



A full list of TNA digitized WW1 collections can be seen at



Silver War Badge records


The badge, which came into being in September 1916, was awarded to all of those military personnel who had served at home or overseas during the war, and who had been discharged from the army under King’s Regulations. This generally meant that the soldier had been released on account of being permanently physically unfit.


If your relative was discharged before September 1916 he may still have received a badge retrospectively.


The badges were useful for deflecting the grim attentions of members of the Order of the White Feather (who once presented a white feather to a sailor in civilian clothing on his way to accept the Victoria Cross). Wounded veterans could point to their silver war badge as evidence that they had not avoided enlistment. Badges bore the inscription ‘For King and Empire – Services Rendered.


The ‘Long Long Trail website gives an excellent rundown on the nature and scope of the records.




In some instances you will be re-directed from sites like The British National Archives to become this company has digitized many of the WW1 holdings of TNA. So I figured it was better to cut out the middleman here.


Some records may be hard to track down if they have been misfiled in the first instance and if names can not to read properly by the optical character recognition equipment.


Access to this service may be available free of charge through your local library


British Army WW1 Service Records 1914-1920 (WO363) ‘The Burnt records’


This database contains the surviving service records of non-commissioned officers and other ranks who served in WWI and did not re-enlist in the Army prior to World War II. With the final release, this database now contains the entire service records collection.


These records contain a variety of forms, including:


Attestation forms – the form completed by the individual on enlistment

Medical history forms

Casualty forms

Disability statements

Regimental conduct sheets


Proceedings on Discharge

Cover for Discharge Documents

Index Cards


Information available in these records includes:


Name of soldier




Marital status

Regimental number

Date of attestation

Physical description


An absolute goldmine if your man’s records survived the German bombs AND the fireman’s hoses. But only a 1:3 chance that you will turn up the relevant file.



British Army WW1 Pension Records (WO364)


Known as ‘The Unburnt Records’. Potentially useful where WW1 survivors are concerned


This database contains service records of non-commissioned officers and other ranks who were discharged from the Army and claimed disability pensions for service in WWI. These were also men who did not re-enlist in the Army prior to World War II. Approximately 5 million men served in the British Army in World War One (WWI) and these records contain many of them, especially if they claimed a pension.


These records contain a variety of forms, including:


Attestation forms – the form completed by the individual on enlistment

Medical history forms

Casualty forms

Disability statements

Regimental conduct sheets



Information available in these records includes:


Name of soldier




Marital status

Regimental number

Date of attestation

Physical description


NB: Don’t bother if your soldier was killed in action or was not entitled to a disability pension











1901 and 1911 CENSUS


In the absence of conscription in Ireland the two digitized Irish censuses are not quite as useful as their British equivalents. However, they can certainly indicate whether the name for which you are searching was a male of military age (18-41 18-51 from 1918)


Soldiers Wills


To circumvent the necessity for a will to be witnessed legislation allowed soldiers to make wills on forms included in their paybooks.


At least 9000 of the 30,000+ Irish soldiers who died chose this option and their wills are preserved in the National Archives of Ireland. The wills have also been digitized and can be read online at




The Irish Military Service Pensions are likely to become an increasingly useful source in years to come. At the moment the only information available is on 1916 veterans but as time goes on the files of Irish WW1 veterans who went on to join the IRA and fight in the War of Independence should also become available. There were at least 116 WW1 veterans in the IRA during the Anglo Irish War. Your grandad might have been one of them.


For the same reason it would be useful to consult the Bureau of Military History witness statements. Many names appear of men unconnected with the IRA. Perhaps your ancestor was an IRA target because of their WW1 service.





Irish National War Memorial Records – compiled in the 1920s and giving rise to the myth that 49,500 Irishmen died in the war – now searchable via – in some cases there is more information than on the CWGC website


The Long, Long,Trail: The British Army in the Great War of 1914-1918 . This site includes a useful tutorial page on how to go about researching a soldier –

Forces War Records is the sister site of Forces Reunited, the leading British military community on the web with more than one million members and reuniting veterans since 2001, part of Clever Digit Media Ltd.

This is a commercial site but is useful and user friendly. – other people might be able to suggest avenues of research if you are facing dead ends – a commercial site but often accessible FOC via your local library





The Irish Times digital archive is a very useful source, especially for Dublin-based soldiers – however, it is likely to have more information on deceased soldiers than on those who survived – searchable


The Freeman’s Journal and Irish Independent for the Great War period are available on the Irish Newspaper Archive website – as are many local newspapers of the period (eg Kerryman, Limerick Leader, Meath Chronicle etc] – you can subscribe yourself to search and download but your local library may have an account with INA which will allow you to access the site FOC on library computers.


It may also be worth checking the London Gazette for details of military honours awarded



Irish regimental/museum websites



Some additional information can be found on the following websites, mostly maintained by dedicate enthusiasts who are willing to help you in your searches. Leinster Regiment Royal Irish Fusiliers facility to ‘trace a relative’ at a cost of £28








These will often give general ‘feel’ for the experience of your relatives and might even mention them specifically. I came across a reference to my own granduncle’s death (he was a mere rifleman/private) in Taylor’s history of the 2nd Royal Irish Rifles in the Great War.




Cooper, Bryan, The Tenth (Irish) Division in Gallipoli (Dublin, Irish Academic Press, 1993).

Cunliffe, Marcus, The Royal Irish Fusiliers, 1793-1968 (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1970).

Denman, Terence, Ireland’s Unknown Soldiers: the 16th Irish Division in the Great War (Dublin, Irish Academic Press, 1992).

Doherty, Richard, The Sons of Ulster (Belfast, Appletree, 1992).

Dooley, Thomas, Irishmen or English Soldiers: The Times and World of a Southern Catholic Irish Man (1876-1916) Enlisting in the British Army in the First World War (Liverpool, Liverpool University Press, 1995).

Dungan, Myles Irish Voices from the Great War (Irish Academic Press, Dublin 1995)

Dungan, Myles, They Shall Grow not Old: Irish soldiers and the Great War (Dublin, Four Courts Press, 1997).

Feilding, Rowland, War Letters to a Wife (London, Medici Society, 1929),

Fox, Sir Frank, The Royal Inniskilling Rifles in the World War (London, Constable, 1928).

Grayson, Richard S., Belfast Boys: How Unionists and Nationalists Fought and Died Together in the First World War (London, Continuum, 2009).

Hanna, Henry, The Pals at Suvla Bay (Dublin, Ponsonby, 1916).

Harris, Henry, Irish Regiments in the First World War (Cork, Mercier Press, 1968).

Hitchcock, Frank, Stand To: a Diary of the Trenches (Norwich, 1988).

Hogarty, Patrick, The Old Toughs: A Brief History of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers, 2nd Battalion (Dublin, Private publication, 2001).

Horne, John, ed., Our War: Ireland and the Great War (Dublin, Royal Irish Academy, 2008).

Kipling, Rudyard, The Irish Guards in the Great War, Vol.1. (London, Macmillan,1923).

Laird, Frank, Personal Experiences of the Great War (Dublin, Eason, 1925).

Lucy, John, There’s a Devil in the Drum (London, London and Naval Military Press, 1992).

Johnstone, Thomas, Orange, Green and Khaki (Dublin, Gill and Macmillan, 1992).

McCance, Captain S., History of the Royal Munster Fusiliers: Volume II – from 1862-1922 (Aldershot, Gale and Polden,1927).

MacDonagh, Michael, The Irish at the Front (London, Hodder and Stoughton, 1916).

MacDonagh, Michael, The Irish on the Somme, (London, Hodder and Stoughton, 1917).

Orr, Phillip, The Road to the Somme (Belfast, Blackstaff Press, 1987).

Orr, Philip, Field of Bones: An Irish Division at Gallipoli (Dublin, Lilliput Press, 2006).

Quinn, Anthony P., Wigs and Guns: Irish Barristers in the Great War (Dublin, Four Courts Press, 2006).

Rickard, Jesse Louisa, The Story of the Munsters at Etreux, Festubert, Rue du Bois and Hulluch (London, Hodder and Stoughton, 1918).

Robertson, David, Deeds not Words: Irish Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen in Two World Wars (Multyfarnham, Privately published, 1998).

Taylor, James. W., The 1st Royal Irish Rifles in the Great War (Dublin, Four Courts Press, 2002).

Taylor, James. W., The 2nd Royal Irish Rifles in the Great War (Dublin, Four Courts Press, 2005).

Walker, G.A.C., The Book of the 7th Service Battalion – The Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers – from Tipperary to Ypres (Dublin, Brindley, 1920).

Whitton, Col.F.E., The History of the Prince of Wales Leinster Regiment, Vol.2 (Aldershot, Gale and Polden, 1926).

Wyly, Col. H.C., Crown and Company – The Historical Record of the 2nd Battalion, Royal Dublin Fusiliers, vol.2 1911-1922 (London, Humphreys, 1923)

Wylly, Col.H.C., Neill’s Blue Caps – Vol.3, 1914-1922 (Aldershot, Gale and Polden, 1923).


A number of counties (Cork, Louth, Cavan, Dublin, Donegal etc) have also now published ‘Roll of Honour’ books with information on those who died from that county.








The Great War Roadshow moves on – to Dun Laoghaire on 17th and 26th July



The Great War roadshow after a successful stopover at the Hay Festival in Kells (where the lectures had to be moved to a larger venue to cope with demand) moves on to Dun Laoghaire next week. The music of the war will be performed at the Pavilion Theatre on 17th July [] and the day long series of lectures will be staged in the Civic Offices on Marine Road on Saturday 26th July

This is, to use a military phrase, a double-edged sword, or even a two-pronged assault (ok, enough military metaphors).

Along with Ciaran Wallace, Damien Shiels, Turtle Bunbury, John O’Keeffe and local historians I’ll be looking at the Irish experience of the Great War. This will be from the point of view of the ordinary soldier and the loved ones left behind. We will also be trying to short circuit some of the research needed to get information on the war record of the 200,000+ Irishmen who fought in the war – still the largest commitment of Irishmen to any conflict in Irish or European history.

The second element of the Roadshow will be an evening of music associated with the Great War, ironically entitled It’s a Lovely War. In part one ‘Songs of War’ this will include some of the well-known contemporary tunes of the 1914-18 period (It’s a Long Way to Tipperary, Keep the Home Fires Burning, Pack up your Troubles, Roses of Picardy) as well as some of the more irreverent tunes composed and sung by soldiers in the trenches (Bombed Last Night, I Don’t Want to Be a Soldier, Forward Joe Soap’s Army). In the second half ‘Songs of Peace’ we’ll be playing some of the post-war songs that have sought to make sense of the apparently meaningless slaughter of the Great War. Performing the songs will be the Brook Singers, Sadhbh Burt Fitzgerald, Jonathan Creasy and Brendan McQuaile. Brendan will also be performing parts of his one-man play March Away My Brothers.

A number of county councils and county libraries have already signed up for one or both of the events.

I’m thrilled to be bringing it to my hometown as part of an event that was hugely successful last year.

A full list and additional details are available on


New on Kindle – The Stealing of the Irish Crown Jewels


1907. The Irish Crown Jewels are stolen from under the noses of the Dublin Metropolitan Police in Dublin Castle a few days before the royal visit of King Edward VII. The stumped DMP send for Scotland Yard. The crime is never solved, perhaps because if the thief was ever identified a huge scandal would follow? This is the tale of an audacious robbery, an outrageous heist, blackmail, murder and political intrigue at the highest level.

The Stealing of the Irish Crown Jewels by Myles Dungan is now available on Kindle at $6.99 (+VAT) or under €6.00


On This Day – Drivetime – 12.12.1883 – Birth of Peadar Kearney, co-composer of the Irish national anthem.


It’s probably the only song in existence whose lyrics are known by the majority of the Irish people in the first national language. Ask yourself, when was the last time you were at an international soccer match or a significant Gaelic Games event and heard anyone signing the lyric ‘Soldiers are we, whose lives are pledged to Ireland’ as opposed to ‘Sine Fianna Fail atá faoi gheall ag Eirinn’.

Which diminishes somewhat the acceptance of Peadar Kearney as the writer of the Irish National anthem. Kearney is the author of the lyrics of The Soldier’s Song which was adopted by the Irish Free State in July 1926 as our national anthem. It is said in some circles to have replaced God Save Ireland by Timothy Daniel Sullivan as the national anthem of the fledgling Irish state. However, this is a myth as, despite God Save Ireland’s iconic status, it was never formally adopted as anything other than a rousing, defiant, and frequently-sung Republican hymn. A Nation Once Again probably has equal claims to being the precursor of The Soldier’s Song but the fact is that the Irish Free State did not move to adopt a national anthem of any kind until 1926.

Neither is it entirely clear if the lyrics and music of the song, or just the melody itself, constitute the Irish national anthem. Or whether anything other than the chorus has official status. Kearney was not really responsible for the melody, this was largely written by frequent collaborator Patrick Heeney to Kearney’s lyrics. The other problem is that the English language version has been almost entirely superseded by the Irish translation, Amhrán na bFhiann, written by Liam O’Rinn in 1923. When the song was played at the Ryder Cup in the USA in 2004 in its English language form it caused something of a storm in a tin cup. Confusion also reigned in 1994 when an American band played the utterly unfamiliar verses of the song as well as the chorus at Irish World Cup games.

The Soldier’s Song appears to have been written in 1907, though Kearney himself suggested it was actually penned in 1909 or later. It became popular with members of the Irish Volunteers as a marching song. Kearney was a house painter by profession. His sister Kathleen would later marry another painter, Stephen Behan, making Kearney the uncle of Brendan and Dominic Behan.

He joined the Gaelic League in 1901 – Sean O’Casey was one of his pupils in Irish language classes – and he took the Irish Republican Brotherhood oath in 1903. He was actively involved in the 1916 Rising and the War of Independence, becoming a personal friend of Michael Collins. Later he would take the Free State side in the Civil War, a move that certainly did no harm in the choice of his song as national anthem by the Cumann na nGael government of W.T.Cosgrave. He was a witness to the death of Michael Collins in Beal na Blath in August 1922 while travelling in the lead vehicle in the ill-fated convoy.

There is some dispute as to whether Kearney earned royalties for the writing of The Soldier’s Song. He did receive some money from publishers for the original composition but not from the state when the song became the national anthem. Heeney, the composer of the music, had died in straitened circumstances in 1911. When Kearney applied for royalties he was informed by the state that it was the melody and not the lyrics that constituted the anthem. Later, under threat of a royalty suit from Kearney and Heeney’s brother the state agreed to buy out the copyright in 1933 for £1000. They had to do it all over again, this time for £2500, in 1965, after changes in copyright law.

But that was of no benefit to Kearney. He had, like his collaborator, Patrick Heeney, died in relative poverty in 1944. He is buried in Glasnevin cemetery with Thomas Ashe, who died on hunger strike in 1917, and Pearse Beasley.

Peadar Kearney, author of the, now rather unfamiliar, English language version of the Irish national anthem, The Soldier’s Song, was born 131 years ago, on this day.

On This Day – Drivetime – 5.12.21 – Ultimatum in Anglo-Irish Treaty negotiations


In July 1921, after more than two years of sporadic, vicious and often ferocious violence the British government, under external and internal pressure, decided that Sinn Fein, Dail Eireann and its military wing, the Irish Republican Army, were not going to go away. They sought and secured a truce during which agreement might be reached on the future governance of the 26 counties of Ireland where the Anglo-Irish war had been raging.

That process began, inauspiciously from a Republican point of view, on 12 July 1921 when Eamon de Valera led a delegation to London for preliminary talks. In fact most of the talking took place in a series of bilaterals between de Valera and British Prime Minister Lloyd George. These encounters with the famous ‘Welsh Wizard’ may have been what prompted the Irish leader to absent himself from the full-blown talks that finally began in October. During their tete-a tetes Lloyd George had made it clear that the Irish sine qua non of a Republic, was not going to form part of any negotiations.

Whatever the most compelling reason was for his decision not to travel it was Michael Collins, increasingly being seen as a serious leadership rival to de Valera, who was given the task of leading the delegation, with Arthur Griffith as his principal associate. The delegates were given plenipotentiary powers to ‘negotiate and conclude … a treaty or treaties of settlement, association and accommodation between Ireland and the community of nations known as the British Commonwealth.’ However, Collins was also handed a note from Dev that reference had to be made to the Cabinet in Dublin before any agreement was signed.

Leading the formidable British delegation was Lloyd George himself, aided by, among others, future Prime Minister Winston Churchill. Offering valuable administrative and advisory support was the Prime Minister’s secretary Thomas Jones. Both men were Welsh speakers and were not averse to rattling the Irish delegation by breaking into Welsh with each other in the course of negotiations.

Lloyd George concentrated on developing a personal relationship with Collins and Griffith. The refusal of the British to concede a Republic had led de Valera to devise an ingenious form of external association that recognized the Crown while mimicking many of the attributes of an independent Republic. This approach, more or less, passed muster with the British delegation.

The issue of Ulster was more problematic. The Irish had been told to break off discussions on the issue of partition – which is somewhat ironic as it played a negligible part in the later treaty debates in Dail Eireann. However, Lloyd George managed to persuade Griffith in a private meeting, not to break on Ulster. He was later held to this guarantee at a crucial point in the talks.

Collins was also having problems with his delegation. The secretary, Erskine Childers, objected to any major concession on a Republic, while two of the delegates, his cousin Robert Barton and the London-based solicitor George Gavan Duffy, were getting restless at their exclusion from the many private meetings involving Collins and Griffith.

As the talks moved from November into December 1921 a combination of threats and cajolery began to wear down the Irish plenipotentiaries. Eventually, on the evening of 5 December, they were told by Lloyd George to take or leave what was on offer from Britain or risk bearing personal responsibility for the resumption of, in his own words, ‘immediate and terrible war’. The Irish delegation succumbed and signed the treaty the following day. Later Collins wrote prophetically to a friend ‘early this morning I signed my death warrant. I thought at the time how odd, how ridiculous —a bullet may just as well have done the job five years ago’.

The British delegation to the Anglo-Irish talks threatened to resume the Anglo-Irish war 93 years ago, on this day.




It has become known as the ‘Old Lady of South King Street’. The Gaiety is now a venerable theatre which has managed to survive some lean times and very stiff competition and remain with us today. In 1871, however, it was brand new, luxurious, well-appointed, and it accommodated almost 2000 people, 700 in the pit and stalls, 200 in the balcony, 210 in the upper circle and a further 700 in the gallery – known to one and all as ‘The Gods’ because the seats were closer to heaven than they were to the stage and patrons required the eyesight and hearing of an all powerful deity to follow what was going on many metres below them.

Despite competition from the Olympia, which opened eight years later, and other sizeable venues, like the Theatre Royal, the Gaiety quickly became a fixture on the Dublin scene, attracting many visiting companies like that of the great actor-manager Henry Irving and the d’Oyly Carte Opera, spiritual and contractual home of the works of Gilbert and Sullivan.

The Gaiety was not unaffected by the various excitements of the revolutionary decade. During the Easter Rising members of the Rathmines and Rathgar Musical Society, another bi-annual tenant, had been ‘trapped’ in the Shelbourne Hotel by the hostilities. There are, it has to be said, far worse places to be imprisoned, and the Shelbourne was out of range of the revolver prominently sported and rebelliously employed by the excitable Countess Markievicz, second in command around St.Stephen’s Green during the rebellion. At least the R&R was only in rehearsal. The d’Oyly Carte had already arrived in force for their traditional Easter week shows at the Gaiety when Pearse, Connolly, Plunkett and units of the Irish Volunteers and the Irish Citizen’s Army took over the GPO. As fortune would have it the Gilbert and Sullivan players and stage crew had been booked into the Gresham hotel across the road in Sackville street for the week. Discretion proving to be much the better part of valour the company members never left the hotel and the Gaiety, sadly, did not ring to the strains of I am the very model of a modern major general or A policeman’s lot is not a happy one that Easter.

Two names are most associated with the theatre. Louis Elliman, son of Russian Jewish parents, bought the theatre in 1936 and held it for almost thirty years. The Gaiety was only one of Elliman’s entertainment interests. He also had an association with the Theatre Royal and later co-founded Ardmore studios with WW1 and Irish civil war veteran Emmet Dalton in 1958. The following year his main theatrical venue was mired in a controversy involving, naturally enough, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Dublin, John Charles McQuaid and the staging of an adaptation of

J.P.Donleavy’s controversial novel The Gingerman. The play, due for a two week run, was pulled after three nights. According to Donleavy himself Elliman was visited by McQuaid’s private secretary who requested, or advised, him, to close the show down. Elliman, opted to comply rather than take on the crozier.

Were it not for the intervention of the second saviour of the Old Lady of South King Street in 1965 the Gaiety might now be an office block or a very expensive car park.

The venue faced stiff competition not just from other theatres but from cinema and television. In the final five years of the reign of Louis Elliman only seven productions turned a profit for the Gaiety management. Elliman died in November 1965 at the age of 59. The Gaiety, fortunate to survive as a theatre, was sold in 1966 and was, at the time of its centenary, being run by Eamon Andrews studios in the shape of the redoubtable Fred O’Donovan, a worthy successor to Elliman. He held the reins for almost twenty years and, with the help of Maureen Potter, heir to the great Jimmy O’Dea, the Gaiety survived.

In its latter years one of the theatre’s most entertaining, if bizarre, moments was when it re-opened after re-furbishment with a ‘Night of 100 Stars’ in October 1984. One of those stars was either an idiosyncratic or intoxicated Peter O’Toole whose five-minute slot reading an extract from Swift’s Modest Proposal morphed into a twenty minute rendition of the entire essay. This led to hisses, catcalls and walk-outs from members of the well-heeled audience. They were either offended by the Hollywood star’s invocation of 18th century Dublin poverty, or bored by the length of time it took him to read the viciously satirical piece, advocating the fattening and slaughter for profit of babies by impecunious Dubliners as a handy source of revenue.

The Gaiety theatre opened its doors for the first time 143 years ago, on this day.


On This Day – Drivetime – 21 November 1915, Shackleton’s Endurance finally sinks


It all started out with high expectations. The title was rather grandiose ‘The Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition’ but the idea was simple, for a team led by Irish explorer Ernest Shackleton, to cross the Antarctic continent. Funded by the British government, and many individual donors, including Scottish jute merchant James Caird, the expedition was given the go-ahead in August 1914 despite the outbreak of a European war a few days before the scheduled departure.

Shackleton’s ship, the Endurance, one of two making the journey, was captained by Frank Worsley. An Irishman, Tom Crean, looked after the 70 dogs with names like Slobbers, Painful, Shakespeare, Bummer and even Amundsen, who were expected to haul the explorers and their equipment across the ice.

But it all went drastically wrong when, in early 1915, the Endurance was encased in an ice floe and inexorably crushed to destruction. She had already been abandoned when, in November 1915, she sank below the surface, an episode recorded by the movie camera of the expedition’s Australian photographer Frank Hurley.

Shackleton managed to get his crew to Elephant Island, almost 350 miles from where the Endurance had gone down. But the chances of rescue were slim. The celebrated decision was then taken to launch the small lifeboat, named the James Caird, after the donor whose money had helped create the predicament, and for six members of the crew, led by Shacklteon, to try and find help. Making the journey, in April 1916, with the famous explorer were two fellow Irishman, Kerryman, Tom Crean and Able Seaman Timothy McCarthy from Cork.

Taking only four weeks’ supplies of food Shackleton pointed the James Caird in the direction of South Georgia, more than 800 miles away. The navigational skills of the Endurance captain, Frank Worlsey, ensured that the small craft managed to reach its destination after 15 days but it was forced to land on the southern shore of the island. Help, in the form of a Norwegian whaling station, was far to the north.

This opened the next chapter of the unlikely rescue of the crew of the Endurance. Shackleton opted to go overland, across forbidding mnountains in freezing temperatures, in a journey that had never been attempted before. He took Worsley and Crean with him. Famously, after 36 hours, they made it to the Stromness whaling station, on 20 May 1916, to the absolute astonishment of the Norwegian occupants of this isolated outpost of civilisation. It was another 40 years before British explorer Duncan Carse emulated the achievement of Shackleton, Crean and Worsley.

It was not until August 1916 that he explorer was able to rescue the bulk of the original Endurance crew and bring them all to safety.

When Shackleton returned to civilisation one of the first questions he asked was about the final outcome of the war that had just broken out when he and his crew had left for the South Pole. He was shocked to be informed that the outcome was still to be decided. The Great War, already two years old, would continue for a further two years and three months.

The Endurance, after being slowly crushed by pack ice for ten months, finally succumbed and sank 99 years ago on this day.


On This Day – Drivetime – 14 November 1669 – Oliver Plunkett becomes Archbishop of Armagh


To generations of Irish children his is the rather frightening head that stares out of a glass shrine in St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church in Drogheda, Co.Louth. Even if you knew what to expect as a child it was a memorable sight – probably the stuff of many a subsequent nightmare.

But before Oliver Plunkett became separated from his head at the behest of elements of the British establishment on 1 July 1681 he had been a distinguished cleric, educated on the continent during the time of the Penal Laws and functioning at a high level in Rome before his appoitment in 1669 to the see of Armagh.

Plunkett had been born in Loughcrew, near Oldcastle in County Meath to weel to do parents of Anglo Norman stock. By the time of his appointment as Primate of Ireland attitudes towards Roman Catholic priests had relaxed sufficiently to allow him to take up his position.

He was a reforming Archbishop. He found Irish priests to be sadly ‘ignorant in moral theology’ – though their lack of such knowledge may have much to do with their inability to acquire a grounding in philosophy while trying to avoid being executed or tarred and feathered at the hands of the authorities in the mid 1600s. The new archbishop also took on drunkenness among members of the clergy, observing that if this habit was squashed Irish priests would become saints. As it turned out he himself was the only Irish cleric of the period to be canonised.

In 1678 Plunkett fell victim to the infamous English Popish Plot of notorious perjurer Titus Oates, who fabricated knowledge of a Catholic conspiracy to murder King Charles II. Oates shopped the Archbishop by alleging that he had evidence of Plunkett colluding to bring 20,000 French soldiers to Ireland. Plinkett might have chosen discretion and headed back to Rome but instead he insisted in remaining in Ireland, though he, sensibly, went on the run. He was captured and tried in Dundalk where numerous informers came forward to confirm the charges against him. The Lord Lieutenant of the day, the Duke of Ormonde, privately referred to them as ‘silly drunken vagabonds whom no schoolboy would trust to rob an orchard.’ The trial quickly collapsed so Plunkett was brought to London to face charges there instead. A grand jury found no case against him but he continued to be detained until the Crown could find witnesses who would stitch him up with the help of a co-operative judge, in this case the Lord Chief Justice Sir Francis Pemberton.

Plunkett was found guilty of ‘promoting the Roman faith’ in June 1681 – which was probably a fair cop, though far from plotting regicide. The penalty, however, was the same in both cases, and on 1 July 1681, the incumbent Roman Catholic Archbishop of Armagh became the last Catholic martyr to die in England when he was hanged, drawn and quartered at Tyburn. In case you are wondering what is involved in the ancient practice of hanging, drawing and quartering, believe me you don’t want to know. His head eventually found its way to Rome, went from there to Armagh before being installed in Drogheda. Most of the his body was interred in Downside Abbey in Somerset. That’s Down –SIDE Abbey, it’s actually the real thing, a monastery, unlike the home of the fictional Crawley family.

Since his death Plunkett’s trial has been described by many distinguished British jurists as an egregious miscarriage of justice, even by 17th century standards.

Oliver Plunkett, canonised in 1975, was appointed to the see of Armagh, 345 years ago, on this day.

On This Day – 31 October 1867 – The Earl of Rosse and the Leviathan telescope


Once upon a time Birr, Co.Offaly didn’t exist. There was a town there all right, but it was called Parsonstown, King’s County.

The ‘Parson’ in question wasn’t a cleric. The name derived from the Parsons family [plural], who were local landowners bearing the hereditary title of Earls of Rosse. The most prominent of that name was the 3rd Earl, William Parsons, born in 1800 during the debate on the Act of Union, a piece of legislation his father vigorously opposed. As the humble Lord Oxmantown William Parsons been educated at Trinity College, Dublin and Magdalen College, Oxford, where he graduated with a first in mathematics in 1822. He inherited his father’s title in 1841. Prior to that he had been an MP who had voted both for Catholic Emancipation and the Great Reform Bill of 1832.

The facility with sums proved to be useful in his future obsession. Because William Parsons was an astronomer. Not just someone who liked to look at the stars through whatever enhancing lens was available, but a serious scientist who won the Royal Medal in 1851. Previous winners included Humphry Davy, John Hesrchel (three times), Michael Faraday (twice) and our own William Rowan Hamilton. It was a sort of Victorian Nobel Prize.

Once he inherited the title Earl of Rosse and came into possession of Birr Castle he could do pretty much whatever he liked with the ancestral pile. So he proceeded to move in the biggest telescope ever built – the 72” Leviathan, built to his own specifications. It would continue to be the world’s largest telescope, in terms of aperture size, until the early years of the 20th century. Work on this wonder of modern science and technology began in 1842 and it was completed by 1845. It was constructed largely through trial and error as few telescope makers had left behind the secrets of their trade and Lord Rosse started out on his labours a century and a half before Google.

The Leviathan was revealed to the world in a whimsical ceremony. By way of dedication, blessing or opening a Church of Ireland Dean walked through the length of the telescope’s six-foot wide tube wearing a top hat and with an umbrella raised above his head, presumably because he could.

No sooner was the Leviathan complete than it was rendered inactive by the calamity of Great Famine. William Parsons devoted much of his family fortune and most of his time for the next three years to alleviating the effects of famine in what would later become Birr, Co.Offaly.

When Rosse did get the Leviathan up and running again his concentration was on the distant nebulae, whose spiral structure he identified thanks to his powerful telescope. He theorised, based on his observations, that millions of galaxies, like our own, might exist. His conclusions were later borne out when the era of radio-astronomy dawned and his deductions could be verified. Astronomers from all over the world would come to Birr Castle to use Leviathan themselves. Rosse was far from precious when it came sharing his impressive telescope.

His own findings and theories were published in the proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy and the Royal Astronomical Society. Recognition followed swiftly. Rosse became a Knight of the Order of St.Patrick in 1845 and was awarded the French Legion of Honour in 1855.

Rosse’s health began to fail in the 1860s and he took a house near the sea at Monkstown near Dublin to assist in his recuperation. He died there 147 years ago, on this day.



[This is a companion piece to an article that is due to appear in the Irish Times WW1 Supplement on 22.10.14]

Work on the 49,000+ names in the Irish National War Memorial Records suggests that around 36,500 of the names contained in the eight-volume memorial are of men born in Ireland and serving, mostly but not exclusively, in the British Army.[1]

But what of the Irishmen who enlisted (Australia) or were conscripted (Canada, USA, New Zealand) in armies other than that of Britain? How many Irishmen died in the service of Colonial forces and that of the USA? The answer is, as with so many statistical questions related to the Great War, that we don’t know. We can come up with a rough estimate but detailed and intensive research would be required to give a definitive answer, if indeed such an answer is possible.

Thanks to the Trojan work of Professor Jeff Kildea and the Irish Anzacs Database we now know that 5774 Irish-born soldiers fought in the Australian Imperial Force in the Great War of whom 860 died.[2] This study reveals as a major underestimate the figures compiled by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, which puts the number of Irish-born dead in the Australian armed forces at 488.

My own researches into the Irish dead in the New Zealand army (which I will upload in a few weeks when the work is in a better state of readiness) suggests a figure of around 280 Irish fatalities in units of that 100,000-strong force. This is largely confirmed by the information gleaned from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website.

It appears that around 20,000 Irishmen served in a Canadian Expeditionary Force that conscripted 630,000 men (just over 400,000 of whom went to Europe).[3] Of those around 65,000 were lost.[4] On that basis (a 10.3% death rate) up to 2000 Irishmen may have died while serving in the CEF. However, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website suggests around half this figure. It records 960 Canadian fatalities of Irish origin.[5] However, given the Australian underestimate the numbers may be higher. Canadian attestation papers asked the question ‘in what town, township or parish and in what country were you born.’ It is possible that a number of recruits neglected to include their country of birth or used an abbreviation such as ‘Irl’, thus rendering themselves inaccessible on the CWGC website. The same may be true of other colonial forces – this may account for the Australian discrepancy.

The USA is proving, and will continue to prove, most problematic.

By the end of the war the US Army numbered almost 4.4 million men.[6] However, only half of these actually served overseas. The figure for US fatalities was 116,000 (around half that number died of flu). There is, unfortunately, no indication in the three-volume publication listing American fatalities, Soldiers of the Great War, of the birthplaces of any of American dead.

What we do know is that 24 million American men were required to register for the draft.[7] Around 18% of those either volunteered for service or were conscripted, though less than 10% served on the Western Front.

The probable total of those with Irish origins who registered for the draft comes to 65,025.[8] Extrapolating from the overall figure that would give us a cohort of around 11,700 (18%) Irish-born men actually serving in the US Armed forces. There may well have been more if Irish-born men volunteered in disproportionate numbers. The names of early volunteers do not show up in the Draft Registration Cards. However, this is unlikely given Irish-American antipathy to the war before American entry into the conflict in April 1917. In addition many of the most enthusiastic Irish are reckoned to have gone to Canada and joined the CEF.

We don’t know how many of that highly speculative number, of just under twelve thousand, actually went abroad. If we extrapolate once again we come up with a figure of under 6000. The American fatality rate was relatively small, around 6%, or a ratio of one death for every seventeen serving soldiers (1:17). On that basis Irish-born fatalities in the US Army could have been as low as 350, on a par with that of New Zealand in absolute terms but small in proportionate terms. The truth is we don’t know, the process of arriving at the figure of 350 is highly speculative and it will be extremely laborious and time-consuming to attempt to discover the true figure.

As regards Irishmen in the South African and Indian Armies, while there were undoubtedly some serving in both forces, the bulk of the million-strong Indian Army was Indian-born and suffered 62,000 deaths, while total South African fatalities came to under 7,000 of the 74,000 who served.[9] The Commonwealth War Graves Commission lists 80 names of members of the South African armed forces associated with Ireland and 13 (all officers) for the Indian Army. In the case of the former however the South Africa War Graves project lists 181 names associated with Ireland, though a detailed examination is required to ascertain how many of these are likely to have been born in this country.

Based on hard but incomplete evidence for Australia, New Zealand, India, South Africa and Canada, and little more than informed speculation regarding the USA the figures for Irish-born dead in the main Imperial armed forces and those of the USA might, at a minimum, look something like this.

AUSTRALIA                            860

NEW ZEALAND                      280

CANADA                                 960

INDIA                                      13

SOUTH AFRICA                      80

USA                                         350

TOTAL                               c.2,543

There is, however, a further difficulty with these figures. It is not possible simply to add this number to the total number of Irish dead recorded in the INWMR. Almost a thousand names in that record are of men who served in the Colonial or American armed forces. In most cases there is no indication in the records as to their place of birth, they have simply been added to the INWMR. However, despite the fact that they are numbered among the 7405 men recorded in the INWMR but not assigned a country of birth, it is likely that all are of Irish origin. It would appear utterly pointless to have included the names of men serving in, for example, the Australian or Canadian armies in a record of the Irish dead, who themselves have no connection whatever with this country. We must assume that certain information was available to the compilers of the INWMR which meant the name warranted inclusion in the Irish records while the criterion used [Ireland as place of birth] was not included in the record of the dead soldier.



CANADA         644                 58       4                  582

USA                 52                 14       20                   18

AUSTRALIA    230                 21       17                192

NEW ZEAL.     75                  15          3                 57

INDIA              127                 11       73                  43

S.AFRICA         72                 10         8                  54

TOTAL           1200               129     125                 946

Only those numbered Column 3 (Other) are unambiguously not Irish. The 129 names in Column 2 are definitively identified as Irish – the mystery is the place of birth of the remaining 946 and why, if they are not all Irish, they found their way into the Irish National War Memorial Records in the first place?

[If anyone has any helpful observations to make or any worthwhile statistics to contribute based on their own researches please contact me on I am new to this particular field of Irish World War 1 studies so I am happy to be corrected on any of the assertions contained above.]

[1] 30,986 have Ireland as their place of birth – the remainder of the figure is made up of the extrapolated Irish ‘share’ of the 7404 names with no known place of birth.




[5] The methodology employed here was simple and far from foolproof. The word ‘Ireland’ was inserted in the ‘additional information’ box in the CWGC ‘Find War Dead’ search engine. ‘First World War’ and ‘Canadian Forces’ were also selected. This brought up 975 records matching the search criteria. 16 of these represented non-Irish entries of men named ‘Ireland’. When the word ‘Irish’ was Adjustments were made for fatalities with the surname ‘Ireland’. The same methodology was employed in the case of Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and India.



[8] This calculation is based on the insertion of ‘Ireland’ as a keyword in the Draft Registration Cards 1917-18 (66713) and the subtraction from that figure of 1688 men whose surname was Ireland.