When Europe went to war in 1914, Ireland was part of the British Empire and became automatically involved.
The War of the Professionals
When war broke out in 1914, about 21,000 Irishmen were serving in the British Army. Another 47,000 reserve officers and men were quickly mobilised in the first couple of months. Most of these professional soldiers went straight into battle as part of the British Expeditionary Force in France. They were well trained, but poorly equipped for the kind of mass war that was rapidly emerging.
The First Shots
The first shots of the British Army on the Western Front were fired on August 22nd outside of Mons, Belgium, by the 4th Royal Irish Dragoon Guards. At the outbreak of war Britain had sent a small army (the British Expeditionary Force) of 70,000 soldiers to oppose the German armies invading France and Belgium. This Force included four Irish Cavalry regiments and nine Irish Infantry battalions. Artillery pieces such as the 18 pounder field gun pictured here would have been used during World War I and armed by 10 soldiers. The 18 pounder was also used by the British during the Easter Rising and the Irish Civil War.
War On The Somme
In 1916, the British Army undertook a major offensive on the Western Front in the valley of the River Somme. Soldiers of the Ulster Division were prominent in the battle; several other Irish units also took part. However barbed wire, machine guns and artillery made the attacking infantryman’s chances of survival slim, despite all his courage and training. The scarf pictured here was worn by John McLoughlin who was just 16 when he joined the Royal Irish Rifles. During the Battle of the Somme, John was shot in the spine. He died shortly before his 20th birthday due to his wounds from the battle.
The Final Convulsion
On 21st March 1918, the German Army attacked on the Western front in a last attempt to win the war before American divisions arrived. The attack was fast and fluid, using specially-equipped soldiers called stormtroopers. The allies held on, eventually counter-attacking all along the line. The German Army was overwhelmed and requested an Armistice, which went into effect on November 11th, 1918.
V Beach, 25th April, 1915
The regular units of the British Army were unable to cope with the demands of the World War and two battalions of Irish Regulars were chosen to be part of the hazardous first landing at Gallipoli. Soldiers of the Royal Munster Fusiliers and Royal Dublin Fusiliers were packed into the converted collier, River Clyde, and into open boats rowed by sailors. As they tried to land on the tip of Gallipoli (at a place designated V Beach) the soldiers were slaughtered by the fire of the Turks manning the high ground. Their casualties were so great that the two reduced battalions were jointed together, and became known as the ‘Dubsters’. The wheel of the River Clyde is pictured here.