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Local Studies Department

WORLD WAR I: Chapter 4 - Recruitment at Home

Conscription (Compulsory Service Bill)

A debate in the House of Commons on the 17th of January 1916 was held to discuss the possibility of excluding the Compulsory Service Bill from Ireland. At the debate various reasons were given by Redmond why this Bill was particularly unsuitable for implementation in the atmosphere that pervaded in Ireland at that time. As Redmond put it, the Bill would “play right into the hands of the contemptible minority amongst the Nationalists of Ireland who had tried, and tried successfully, to prevent recruiting, and to undermine the position and power of the Irish Party because of the action they had taken.” Kildare Observer-22 January, 1916

The Irish correspondent of The Times on 7 December 1915 reported that Sinn Fein and the Irish Volunteers were now quite open in their opposition torecruiting. For the present, however, Redmond had excluded conscription for Ireland despite it being implemented in Scotland, Wales and England. However, numerous further threats would emerge throughout the war, but even in 1918, when conscription finally came on the statute books for Ireland, it was never actually implemented here.

During the above-mentioned debate and one held in December 1915, Redmond emphasised the bitterness felt by Irish Nationalists over Irish losses in the Dardanelles and believed there had been a ‘systematic suppression’ of the gallantry of the Irish troops, and did ‘not think that there was any single incident that did more harm’ to his efforts to encourage Irish recruitment. Hansard 5 (Commons), IXXXVI, Col. 586, 18 October, 1916

  1914 1915 1916 1917 1918
Irish Guards 93% 84% 88% 86% 70%
Royal Irish 86% 76% 69% 71% 63%
Royal Inniskilling 81% 70% 73% 52% 45%
Royal Irish Rifles 86% 78% 89% 57% 54%
Royal Irish Fusiliers 83% 70% 79% 69% 57%
Connaught Rangers 85% 70% 74% 74% 62%
Leinsters 86% 81% 87% 60% 60%
Royal Munster Fus. 80% 69% 76% 71% 59%
Royal Dublin Fus. 80% 75% 81% 65% 56%
Total 86% 75% 81% 65% 56%

Source: SDGW (Soldiers who died in the War)

The above table illustrates the effect that the Dardanelles had on Irish recruitment. The 1915 percentage figure for quotas filled in the Irish Regiments clearly indicates the fall, from 80% for the Dublin Fusiliers in 1914, to 70% in 1915. Figures rose again for 1916 before the full effect of the Rising was evident, and drastically fell again because of this.

The following table shows the recruitment performance by regimental area for six periods of six-monthly aggregates:-

Recruiting Performance by Regimental Area
Public Records Office (London) Nats 1-85

Depot
Belfast
Omagh
Armagh
Naas
Period
1st
24,039
4,025
1,931
9,718
2nd
8,069
1,312
1,260
5,675
3rd
5,270
1,461
981
5,450
4th
2,314
571
445
2,663
5th
2,679
567
282
1,867
6th
1,470
264
131
1,238
 
43,841
8,200
5,030
26,611

 

Depot Clonmel Galway Birr Tralee
Period        
1st
2,645
1,700
1,524
4,525
2nd
2,914
1,156
1,543
3,439
3rd
1,684
1,035
1,463
2,457
4th
749
613
442
1,526
5th
581
370
219*
1,713
6th
405
227
96”
917
 
8,978
5,101
5,287
14,577
Total:
117,577

These figures are based on returns received from the individual depots over a period from August 1914 to June 1917, after this date only totals for the entire country were given. So in the period from August 1914 to June 1917 26,611 soldiers were recruited into the army from Dublin, Wicklow, Carlow and Kildare. The Naas Depot recruited for the Royal Dublin Fusiliers from these four areas. In total, therefore, 117,577 new recruits entered the army from August 1914 to June 1917. It is obvious again from this table that between the third and fourth quarter numbers began to drop; this marks the mid 1915 period; the Dardanelles.

Mid-way through the war, many people in Ireland were of the opinion that Ireland should be neutral. The Kildare Observer, as a Unionist paper, has a cynical view of this particular conviction:­

“Neutrality! There is a story told of an old man and his wife who were crossing the Channel in a steamer that got into difficulties. The old man searched about in the steamer until he found his wife. “Mary,” said he, “the boat is going down.” “What matter,” said Mary, “it isn’t our boat”! Mary was “neutral” like a lot of other “Marys,” we hear prating patriotism and spurious philosophy from time to time.”
Kildare Observer-15 January, 1916

Progressively, the war and Britain’s insensitivity towards nationalist issues began to interlink. Ireland was becoming more and more marginalised away from the War, as the political situation between the two unfolded. Some individuals, Sinn Feiners in particular, were labelling soldiers serving abroad as traitors to the Irish cause. Their anti-recruitment policy was widely known. This policy, however, existed as their only active policy. Any of the pro-Germanism that the Irish Republican Brotherhood, Irish Volunteers or the Irish Citizen Army expressed was never endorsed by Sinn Fein. Sinn Fein after all never fully got off the ground until after the Rising, in 1917, it’s policy of abstention the prime reason.

The change in atmosphere brought on by the political situation and the longevity of the war led essentially to this fall in recruitment. In tandem with this trend was the increasing mobility of the catholic nationalist movement which is addressed in the following chapter. (Chapter 5 - Rebellion and Reaction)