Royal Dublin Fusiliers Association Crest
Our reason for existence is to promote a wider awareness of the forgotten Irish men and women who served, fought and died in the Great War 1914-1918. Most people do not know about the large numbers from all parts of Ireland who took part in that dreadful conflict nor of the impact of their involvement at personal and national levels. We believe that a better understanding of the shared heritage of sacrifice now will help to reconcile the two major traditions on the whole of this island.
Over 200,000 men and women from every region and class in Ireland enlisted during the Great War of whom at least 35,500 were killed. The total for The Royal Dublin Fusiliers Regiment was 4,777. The actual number of Irish deaths remains to be established as many enlisted in other regiments, the naval services, and the armies of the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. Most of those who died lie in ‘foreign fields,’ many in an unmarked grave. There was no conscription in Ireland.
The fact that large numbers of volunteers from the Nationalist community participated is not widely acknowledged. In Northern Ireland, the Unionist tradition is seen to commemorate the war as a symbol of loyalty to the United Kingdom. The Nationalist tradition came to regard those who fought in the 1916 Rising as the true patriots while those who died fighting in the British Army were seen as misguided, if remembered at all. Yet during the actual war, “the bond of common service and common sacrifice proved so strong and enduring that Catholic and Protestant, Unionist and Nationalist, lived and fought and died side by side like brothers,” to quote Major Bryan Cooper of the 10th (Irish) Division.
An early sign of a new understanding can be seen in the comments of the Taoiseach Sean Lemass in February, 1966, the 50th anniversary of the 1916 Rising:
“In later years it was common – and I was also guilty in this respect – to question the motives of those men who joined the new British armies formed at the outbreak of the war, but it must in their honour and in fairness to their memory be said that they were motivated by the highest purpose.”
While the focus is on the Irish men and women who served, we also remember the many English, Scots, Welsh and other nationalities who served in the Irish regiments and who fought and died side by side with their Irish comrades.
We concentrate on the personal stories, believing that they are the key to understanding for most people. Each soldier, sailor, nurse, chaplain, anti-war activist or civilian was an individual who shared our humanity, who had parents, grandparents, brothers, sisters, wives, husbands, lovers, friends and perhaps children, nieces, nephews, neighbours and colleagues. A large proportion of the population has some relation or one-time neighbour who was in the Great War or was affected by it. The volunteers came from every class, religion and region. Their reasons for enlisting were as varied as we are different. We hope that what you see will encourage you to investigate your own background. Perhaps, you will rediscover some long forgotten individual. Why not share your research with us?