[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 – Michael Collins takes possession of Dublin Castle 16 January 1922


Even though Michael Collins concluded, accurately, in December 1921, that, in agreeing to the terms of the Anglo Irish treaty, he had signed his own death warrant, without having appended his signature to the document on 6 December 1921 he would not have been able to participate in an event six weeks later that must have given him a great deal of satisfaction.

Once the Treaty was signed and ratified by Dail Eireann on 7 January, bar a port or two, the loan of some artillery to start the Civil War, and of course six counties, the British didn’t really hang about. The new rulers of Ireland were advised to be ready to take over Dublin Castle in mid January.

There could be no clearer indication of the actual intention of the British to leave the 26 county Irish Free State than the handing over of this sprawling monument to British rule in Ireland. For centuries Ireland had been governed from … ‘The Castle’. Members of the majority religion who co-operated with the British administration to their financial benefit were … ‘Castle Catholics’. Everything British that moved and had its being in Ireland emanated from … the Castle.

Built at the behest of King John in the 13th century to provide a base for the English conquest of the country from Dublin it had remained the nexus of English and then British rule and the abiding symbol of the colonization of Ireland.

It was from the Bermingham Tower in the Castle that the legendary escape of Red Hugh O’Donnell and Art O’Neill took place in the depths of the winter of January 1592. Art O’Neill perished in the Dublin Mountains but O’Donnell managed to make his way to the sanctuary of the O’Byrnes in Glenmalure, Co.Wicklow. Just over two hundred years later, in 1907, the Insignia of the Order of St.Patrick, known as the Irish Crown Jewels, were stolen from the Bedford Tower in an audacious robbery that has never been solved. Half of Dublin at the time knew who had stolen them. The problem was they nominated the other half of the city as the thieves.

The Castle might well have fallen during the upheavals of 1641, but it did not succumb to rebel control. Robert Emmett could conceivably have taken it in 1803 but dismally failed to do so. It was even more vulnerable in 1916 but the Volunteers failed to walk the ball into an open goal.

So Michael Collins, dressed impressively in his military uniform, must have savoured the moment when his staff car drove into the precincts of the complex of buildings whose fabric he had successfully managed to infiltrate during the Anglo-Irish war while, himself, managing to stay out of the clutches of its more sinister and homicidal operatives.

When Collins stepped out of his staff car he was greeted waspishly by the Lord Lieutenant, Lord Fitzalan. ‘You are seven minutes late, Mr.Collins’, observed His Majesty’s last Viceroy in Ireland. The Irish leader is said to have responded acidly, ‘We’ve been waiting over seven hundred years, you can have the seven minutes.’

Fitzalan, the first Catholic Lord Lieutenant since the reign of King James II then took Collins on an impromptu and largely irrelevant tour of the facility pointing out which keys opened which doors, before absenting himself and leaving Collins, literally, holding the fort.

Michael Collins took possession of Dublin Castle on behalf of the Irish provisional government 93 years ago, on this day.


On This Day – Drivetime – 9.1.1873 Birth of John J.Flanagan, hammer thrower


They were know, collectively, as the ‘Irish Whales’ John J. Flanagan, Matt McGrath, Jim Mitchell, Patrick J.Ryan and Con Walsh. In the early years of the 20th century these Irishmen, all domiciled in the USA, ruled the world of hammer throwing, winning five Olympic gold medals . But it was Flanagan, born in Kilbreedy, near Kilmallock, Co.Limerick, in 1873, who was primus inter pares.

Flanagan, who, for a successful field athlete, stood a relatively modest 5’10” tall, was something of an all-rounder who had already established his reputation in field sports before he emigrated to the USA in 1896. There he began to specialise in the hammer event which, in 1900, was included in the programme for the Paris Olympic Games. Flanagan, the world record holder, representing the USA, beat two other American throwers to take the first hammer gold with a throw of just over 51 metres. He was the only non-college American to win a medal at those games. Both the silver and bronze medallists in his event, Truxton Hare and Josiah McCracken were, for example, college football players.

He repeated the feat in the St.Louis games in 1904, taking gold, once again, from two Americans. His third and final gold medal, at the London Olympics in 1908, must have given him a great deal of satisfaction. An element in the crowd appeared to dislike the idea of an Irishman competing for the USA at the Olympic games, and made their feelings clear, vocally, by booing the Limerickman. Flanagan defied their disapproval to take the laurels with a throw of almost 52 metres. Fellow Irishman, Matt McGrath, took the silver, which must really have pleased the home crowd. There cup must have run over entirely when the bronze was hung around the neck of Con Walsh, competing for Canada.

Flanagan and McGrath (who won Olympic gold in 1912) were both members of the New York Police Department. Flanagan’s first posting was something of a sinecure. He worked in the Bureau of Licences where he had a lot of time on his hands which was mostly used for training at the Irish American Athletic Club in Queens.

Flanagan was a committed competitor no matter what the occasion. In 1905, for example, in a police sports meeting in New York he dominated the throwing events as expected. That, however, wasn’t enough for him, and to demonstrate that he possessed a turn of speed as well he entered and won the inelegantly titled Fat Man’s Race.

In 1910 he ended his career as one of New York’s finest after he was transferred to West 68th street and forced to walk a beat near Central Park.

In all Flanagan, in addition to his three Olympic golds, won 9 US championships and set thirteen world records. In 1911 he returned to Ireland and a few years later took over the family farm on the death of his father. He died, aged 75, on 4 June 1938 in his native Limerick.

Inspired, no doubt, by his superhuman achievements there is a belief that Flanagan’s middle name was ‘Jesus’. This is how he appears on, for example, the website. But it seems his middle name was, in fact, the far humbler and more mundane, Joseph.

The first occasion on which the hammer event at the Olympic games was NOT won by an athlete competing for the USA was in 1928, when Pat O’Callaghan, throwing for Ireland, took the gold. That would have been an immensely satisfying moment for Flanagan, as he was O’Callaghan’s coach.

Irish-born Olympian, John J.Flanagan was born 141 years ago, on this day.


2014 in review

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 13,000 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 5 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

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.