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Dublinís Great Wars

The First World War, the Easter Rising and the Irish Revolution

Richard Grayson

Cambridge: University Press, 2018

Hardcover. xvi+470 p. ISBN 978-1107029255. £20

(Paperback, 2020. ISBN 978-1108930628. £14.99/Ä18)


Reviewed by David Durnin

University College Dublin



In Dublinís Great Wars: The First World War, the Easter Rising and the Irish Revolution, Richard Grayson deftly explores the wartime stories of Dubliners who served in the British military and in the republican forces during the First World War and the Irish Revolution. Grayson sets the narratives of British soldiers and Irish republicans alongside each other. Using this framework, he persuasively demonstrates that the history of those involved in the First World War and the Irish Revolution is best understood as one narrative, a series of interconnected wars rather than several separate events. Dublinís Great Wars is explicitly not a social or economic history of Dublin or an analysis of Dublin as a home front during the First World War. However, Dublinersí wartime experiences are placed within the broad contexts of Dublinís strong military and naval traditions in imperial and political conflict. In this study, Dubliners are not simply those who were born in the area but rather those with an address in Dublin during the relevant years or those whose next-of-kin were in the area.

In recent years, Irish participation in the First World War has been the subject of increased historical analysis. However, Graysonís focus extends beyond the stories of the much studied regiments, such as the Pals of the 7th Dublins, and provides new details on the wartime roles and responsibilities of Dubliners in other divisions including the 10th (Irish) Division at Gallipoli, the 16th (Irish) Division and the 36th (Ulster) Division. It also effectively explores Dublinersí experiences beyond the much-studied battlefields in France, Belgium and Gallipoli. In doing so, this study demonstrates an understanding of the extremely different conditions and wartime experiences of Dubliners in locations including Kosturino and Mesopotamia. In the examination of Dublinersí roles and experiences in the First World War, this study adopts a broadly revisionist approach but often acknowledges the inconsistencies in the British Armyís performance and its subsequent effects on the Dubliners involved in the conflict. 

Graysonís meticulous linking of the stories of Dubliners who fought in the First World War with those who participated in the conflicts in Ireland is evident throughout the book but is best done during the examination of Dublinersí wartime experiences in 1916. Here, he explores the events of the 1916 Rising alongside major First World War battles, including the Battle of Hulluch in Belgium, where the 16th Division faced a serious gas attack by the Germans. In an analysis of the week of the Rising in April 1916, this study details the progression of battles and the daily number of dead in both the Rising and among Dubliners who participated in the First World War. This shows that during the week beginning 26 April 1916, almost three times as many Dubliners died serving in the British Army in the First World War as the total number of rebels killed in Dublin. Grayson thus posits that only by connecting the narratives of the events of the Rising with those at Hulluch can we understand the context and the initial negative reactions of Dubliners towards the revolutionary events in the city.

In a detailed study of the aftermath of the battles of the Somme and Hulluch, as well as the Rising, Grayson explores the several notable effects of these events on Dubliners. The deaths at the Somme and Hulluch encouraged the renewal of recruiting efforts in the city to fill gaps in the ranks of the British Army. There was also a notable shift in Dublinersí attitudes towards those who participated in the Rising. At least 300 Dubliners were interned as Republican prisoners in Frongoch, Wales. Some were released in December 1916 and returned to Dublin. There, they received a reception that differed significantly from the initial negative reactions that they had received from locals when the Rising occurred. Grayson posits that their release, as well as the release of more prisoners from Frongoch later in the year gave new impetus to republican politics in the city.

Of course, Dublinís Great Wars is not only concerned with First World War and the Rising. It contains a lively and nuanced study of Dublinersí roles and experiences in the Irish War of Independence and the Civil War. Appropriately, there is also a strong and fascinating analysis of the complex issues surrounding commemoration. The issue of conflict commemoration in Ireland has been the subject of several high-quality studies but Grayson differentiates and focuses his gaze firmly on commemorative activities in Dublin. In doing so, the study focuses on the tensions that surrounded commemorative events for the Irish participants in the First World War. Commemorations in Dublin were characterised by controversy and trouble. At the end of 1918, several organisations and committees proposed ideas for an all-Ireland memorial in Dublin in memory of those who had died in the First World War. Negotiations dragged and continued after the Civil War ended, when there were proposals to combine a memorial and public park in Merrion Square, Dublin. However, a senate debate in 1927 voiced concerns about it as a site of conflict. Eventually work started on memorial construction at Islandbridge, Dublin. Ultimately, this analysis demonstrates the complexity of conflict commemoration in Dublin and indeed, Grayson posits that remembrance of the Rising and subsequent events of the Irish Revolution also posed their own difficulties. These were often beset by partisan rivalry, which marked annual Rising commemorations in the city from 1924.  

Dublinís Great Wars is a fascinating study of the history of Dublinersí wartime experiences during the First World War and the Irish Revolution. Graysonís use of the methodological approach defined as Ďmilitary history from the streetsí ensures that this study utilises a wealth of source material to detail the street-level effects of the First World War and the Irish Revolution on Dubliners who participated in these conflicts. This book will appeal to those interested in the history of war and revolution in Ireland, the history of Irish involvement in the First World War and the history of Dublin.      



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