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Local Studies Department

WORLD WAR I: Chapter 4 - Recruitment at Home


The 1911 Census found there to be a total of 33,717 “Persons engaged in defence of Country”. In county Kildare alone there were 6,264 “Persons engaged in defence of Country”; almost 10 % of it’s population of 66,627. From the beginning, therefore, Kildare was expected to shine, it’s numbers were well above average. The presence of the Curragh Military Camp of course increased numbers beyond most other counties. Recruitment numbers, however, were based on those who joined the army following the declaration of war in August 1914 and not those already in the army. The location of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers, a very respected regiment, in Naas meant that those in the surrounding areas would have the added inducement of joining a regiment close to home. The idea of glory through the Fusiliers appealed to many young men around Kildare, Wicklow, Dublin and Carlow; the regimental area covered by the Dublin Fusiliers:

Regimental Areas

Title Depot Counties
Royal Irish Rifles Belfast Antrim, Down
Royal Iniskilling Fusiliers Omagh Donegal, Derry, Tyrone, Fermanagh
Royal Irish Fusiliers Armagh Armagh, Monaghan, Cavan, Louth
Royal Dublin Fusiliers Naas Dublin, Wicklow, Carlow, Kildare
Royal Irish Regiment Clonmel Tipperary, Waterford, Kilkenny, Wexford
Connaught Rangers Galway Galway, Roscommon, Mayo, Sligo, Leitrim
Leinster Regiment Birr Longford, Meath, Westmeath, Offaly, Laois
Royal Munster Fusiliers Tralee Kerry, Limerick, Cork, Clare

Callan, Patrick; The Irish Sword. Vol. XVII, No. 66-Recruiting for the British Army in Ireland during the First World War.

In the 7 month period from the beginning of the war in early August, 1914 to the end of February 1915, 50,017 men volunteered for the army in Ireland. In the next 12 months only 45,036 stepped forward. (Denman, Terence; Ireland’s unknown Soldiers, The 16 th (Irish) Division in the Great War)

In many ways this was a natural shortfall, the result, mainly, of not having a conscription bill in place. It could only be expected that the initial excitement of war and the first surge of those joining the forces would peter out. Added motivation, in the form of allowances and local recruitment meetings, was required. To stem the tide of shortfall various rallies and recruitment meetings were organised throughout the country and Kildare was no exception.

In July 1915 a plea for more men issued from The O’Mahony. At this time no firm figures were available to the public but it was felt that “Kildare..... need have no fear of the disclosures which such a return would involve.” (speech Kildare Observer). The O’Mahony was born in Kerry and involved himself heavily in countrywide recruitment. A letter from the man himself appeared in the Freeman’s Journal on 24th July 1915. It read;-

­“Dear Sir,

Lord Kitchener has told us he requires more men and still more men....

We are doing our utmost under the leadership of Mr. John Redmond to support the Empire in this hour of trial. Since Whit Sunday I have addressed forty-one recruiting meetings in various parts of Ireland...

Yours faithfully,

O’ Mahony”

The O’Mahony delivered many of his speeches in County Kildare. At one particular meeting in Staplestown in October 1915 he asked locals if:-­

“they were going to, who were risking their lives and shedding their blood in defence of our homes and those we loved, unaided.... Now when they had the opportunity of fighting to preserve their nation, why did not they come forward and join, For how could man die better Than facing fearful odds For the ashes of his father And the temple of his God.” Kildare Observer- 30 October, 1915

Various methods were used to aid recruitment and the Kildare Observer played it’s part, publishing the following letter from Corporal E. R. Gray to his grandmother in Naas from the Dardanelles dated August 28th:-

“I am still all right after three weeks on Turkish soil and eight days in our present trenches. We had two days off during that and the rest we were under shrapnel, bullets, bombs and high explosives. The snipers are the devil… . Willie (his cousin) is in hospital with dysentery, which few escape in more or less severe form... The work is heavy; the casualty list ditto. There are Australians and Indians here helping, and the fleet is grand. They say the Italians are coming along. I hope so! If those at home, who ought to have enlisted saw what goes on here they would join the colours tomorrow.... I did not receive the parcel you sent. I get the ‘Observer’ regularly. Henry and I are now censors of letters.”

In particular the middle classes were targeted, as their numbers were not as high as the labouring classes in joining the war effort. The war attracted those who did not have much in the way of employment to leave behind. The arrival of soldiers to their Regiment in the Irish Guards:-

“Men came flocking from all parts of Ireland eager to get back to their Regiment and their friends. Conditions were hard in Ireland in those days, so doubtless the prospect of steady employment was an additional spur...” Verney, Peter; The Micks- The Story of the Irish Guards

The towns of the county were felt to be keeping up their numbers, most notably Athy. It was felt, however, that the countryside, in particular the farmers, were falling behind in recruitment numbers. The harvest was over in October and recruits from this sector were expected to rise, this did not occur. Farmers gained much from the price increases during the war and prospered well. This section did not need the separation allowance in order to feed their families. A wealthy farmer or shop owner would hardly leave a progressive business behind to be run by god knows who, and in what manner, for something that he did not whole-heartedly believe in, as more and more Irish men were finding. An article in the Kildare Observer dated 20 March 1915 reads as follows:-­

“If England wins with her present army and navy then she wins without the assistance of the “respectables” (middle classes). No doubt the middle class will be overjoyed in one sense at this result. Will it feel, in the stocktaking which must follow the war, that it has acted creditably? Will it feel comfortable in going into the streets and cheering with those who have won?”

The following extract from a Recruiting Meeting at Monasterevan in the month of February 1916, published in the Kildare Observer, reflects the general feeling of many at the time:-

­“The labouring class have done remarkably well, and the gentry have also done their bit. But there are two classes still that did not do their bit - the farmers’ sons and the young commercial men.”
Kildare Observer- 12 February, 1916

However, in the same breath the following was said also to be true:-

“Some few farmers’ families have done very well. In Kilmeague four brothers of the Spooner family have joined the colours, and they have handed over the management of their farm of 160 acres to Messrs. Goff and Co., Newbridge, until they would come back.

In this neighbourhood Mrs. Kelly, of Mary’s Row, has four sons with the colours, and Mr. Roche, whom we all know, has five sons out of six serving with the colours (cheers). Three brothers out of four of the Wrights of Kilkea, are serving, and also the Cope’s, of Castledermot.”
(Mr. J.W. Dane, D.L. on behalf of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers)
Kildare Observer - 12 February, 1916

One particular speech told of the “absolute fact that at the present time there are in or near Dublin fourteen Belgian refugee nuns who are about to become unwilling mothers (cries of “shame”)” following German soldiers ravages while marching on Belgium.
Kildare Observer - 23 October, 1915

The truth of this statement is doubtful, but at the time it certainly served it’s purpose; to rouse it’s listeners into joining the army in the nuns defence; in the defence of Catholicism, if nothing else. These stories, and many other horrific stories of the war, were published to create a sensation and motivate men into joining the army to defend those less fortunate than themselves.

Sir Anthony Weldon, Lord Lieutenant for Kildare, requested the people of that county, in June 1915, to form a recruitment committee, as various other counties seemed to be setting up similar bodies. By October 1915 serious rumours of conscription circulated throughout the Empire. The voluntary system, a fine proof of the Empire’s record, could no longer live up to former expectations. (Kildare Observer-October 1915)

Sir Anthony Weldon’s request for a recruitment committee to be set up was responded to and the County Kildare Recruiting Committee was formed with Mr. M. J. Minch as Chairman, Mr. T. Langan, Hon. Sec, etc. Initially a series of lectures on the War were held around the County. Recruitment meetings were also organised. The following was the advertisement for the first set of meetings published in local newspapers:­-

Date Place Hour
Saturday, 23 October Kildare 7 o’clock
Sunday, 24th October Staplestown 12 o’clock noon
Monday, 25th October Castledermot 7 o’clock
Tuesday, 26th October Ballytore 7 o’clock
Wednesday, 27 October Athy 7 o’clock

The Band of the 1st Battalion of the Royal Dublin Fusilierswill attend.


Kildare Observer, 23 October, 1915

Such advertisements appeared time and again during the remainder of the War. This new drive for recruits proved a colossal effort to avert conscription in Ireland. However, very few recruits actually came forward in the first weeks following this surge.

However, county Kildare had done well up to mid 1915 in recruiting for the war effort. In the Athy district alone, which included Grangemellon, Kilberry, Ballaghmoon, Castledermot, Johnstown, Kilkea, Moone, Fontstown, Kilrush, Monasterevan etc., it was said up to June 1915 over 800 men had already joined the colours from this district.
Kildare Observer possibly October/November 1915

The Protestant population of County Kildare had contributed a large proportion of their numbers to the War effort. This was seen as an assertion of that section of Irish society’s loyalty to the Empire. Catholic Nationalist support, as the war progressed, waned but the Protestant recruitment numbers joining remained relatively steady. In addition, County Kildare’s Protestant population, at 15.76%, was above the national average which was 13.3%, this fact boded well for high recruitment numbers in the county.
1911 Census