Saturday, November 12, 2005


Unionism, Ireland and World War I

I spoke already about how remembrance celebrations relating to World War I can be an awkward time for Irish people in light of the more pressing events which occurred at home at the time. One major issue of the time was to do with the proposed idea of conscription. In Ireland, this was vehemently opposed, much to the anger of unionist leaders. I've been reading a book called 'Dividing Ireland: World War I and Partition' by Thomas Hennessey and I thought these comments from the two unionists leaders, Edward Carson and James Craig, were very interesting and particularly relevant at this point in time.

Edward Carson stated that:

" my heart...when the hour of victory comes...we who are Irishmen will feel ashamed to remember that we expected others to make sacrifices from which we provided our own exclusion."

Captain James Craig had this to say:

"My...words to my are these: It has always been a pride to a man, no matter what part of the country he came from, to say he was an Irishman. If he was travelling abroad and he was taxed with the question as to where he came from, he would not hesitate to say in the past that he was an Irishman. But if Ireland, if the Irish nationalist representatives...refuse to come forward and take their fair share...alongside...the rest of the United Kingdom, then I say for my part if this victory is gained it will be no pleasure to me to call myself an Irishman, and in future it will either have to be a Britisher or an Ulsterman."

I do disagree with the stance taken by both unionist leaders on the conscription issue because massive public demonstrations took place both in Belfast and in the south in opposition to conscription and clearly the majority of Irish people opposed it. It's never really been popular and NI was even exempt from conscription in the Second World War, and was also excluded from the post-war National Service.

What I find most interesting though from the above quotes is the fact that here we have two unionist leaders, who identify themselves as Irishmen, who contemplate (and in Craig's case go through with) repudiating their Irishness over a political issue. In subsequent decades, more and more northern Irishmen repudiated their Irishness over political (and more specifically terrorist) issues. So with that being said, it begs the question...

Can those unionists who have repudiated their Irishness be reconciled to it?


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