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Local Studies Department

WORLD WAR I: Chapter 2 - The Home Front

National Relief Fund

A National Relief Fund was set up in early August, 1914, by the Prince of Wales; various individuals around Ireland were selected to raise money to build up the fund as the war progressed. In County Kildare Sir Anthony A. Weldon, as Lord Lieutenant for the County, printed the following in the Kildare Observer on 15th August 1914:

“Sir- At the request of the Prince of Wales, I am opening a
subscription list for the inhabitants of County Kildare, in aid of
the national relief fund, of which his royal highness is the
treasurer. The fund has been raised by his royal highness for
the relief of the stress which must inevitably follow as a result
of the war, and I am quiet sure the people of Kildare will not
be behind hand in responding to this appeal. As I am away from
home in command of my regiment near Cork, I have asked
my wife to act as treasurer. Please therefore, send all subscriptions
and she will acknowledge all contributions sent through the local paper weekly.
Anthony A. Weldon

In most cases men were selected but, as in this case, women were required to take over as a result of their men taking up more direct involvement in the War. Sir Anthony A. Weldon, a native of Athy, was dispatched to the South West of Ireland to partake in the preparation of troops there. As a result, Lady Weldon was required to take up some of his duties as Lord Lieutenant for the County. And so it was that women happened, as Lady Weldon did by default, upon a new role and carried it out in a manner that would give them a place in the world never envisaged before. Lady Weldon remained true to her husband’s request, and, as often as possible, submitted a detailed list of those who subscribed to the Fund, even the most pecuniary amount, to the local newspapers. The first list was published on 22nd August 1914, having achieved £1,430 13s. Donations collected were sent at intervals of roughly two months to Buckingham Palace to aid the war effort. The National Relief Funds first use in Co. Kildare came in late August 1914 when gifts of buns, cigarettes etc., were distributed by women to troops leaving Dublin for the front.

The collection of the Fund was one matter but the actual administration and distribution was another. In each Borough, County Council and Urban District Council area, the Mayor or Chairman headed a committee which took charge of the local administration of the National Relief Fund. The Committees included representatives from the Board of Guardians, Distress Committees, Churches, voluntary charities and other similar bodies. The fund aimed “to create employment rather than to pauperise”, and the Local Government board, the Road Board and the Development Commission united to develop labour employment and improvement schemes to help those whose income was affected by the war.
Kildare Observer, 22 August, 1914

Wives and mothers in particular availed of the new mechanisms in place as a result of the fund. The Co. Kildare Distress Committee, for instance, with the aid of the fund, set up a scheme to provide for the employment of fifteen out of twenty-eight girls who would normally have been employed in the lace-making industry. This industry, based in Monasterevan, had collapsed due to a lack of demand resulting from the War. Other similar schemes were set up to aid those affected by the war. The closure also of a Carpet Factory in Naas, leading to the unemployment of a large number of girls, was responded to in like fashion. Twenty-nine girls received grants as they attended a Domestic Economy Course in the local Technical School following the closure of the factory. Kildare Observer - 6 February, 1915

By October 10th 1914 the National Relief Fund for the whole of Great Britain had raised £3,000,000, £1,907 14s 2d having been subscribed from County Kildare in the two month period. The largest single amount subscribed was £1,000 by the Duke of Leinster, an inconceivably generous act by the standards of the time.