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Irish in World War I Prisoner of war World War I

Prisoner of War Photograph Album, Joseph McEnroe, WWI

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This July we commemorate the centenary of the First World War and remember those men who served in the various armies of all nations. Two such men were brothers Thomas and Joseph McEnroe, who served with the Royal Irish Fusiliers, and between them their experience covers the war years between 1914 and 1918. This album was made by Joseph after the war, and documents his experience as a prisoner of war in Germany between 1917 and 1918. It was donated to the National Museum in 1986.

It has only been in the fairly recent past that Ireland has fully acknowledged the role of its people during this conflict; it is thought that up to 150,000 Irishmen enlisted and served in the various theatres of war, and the Irish at home, especially women, found job opportunities on war service, particularly in the manufacturing of munitions. The number of Irish deaths is the subject of debate, some estimate it to be about 35,000, while others include recent emigrants in foreign armies and go as high as about 50,000. It would be impossible to say definitively, as enlistment records do not necessarily state the nationality of the soldier, the Irish regiments were not ‘Irish only’, and individual Irishmen also served in regiments that were not connected to Ireland. Nor do the enlistment forms record the motivation for joining. In 1914 Ireland was part of the British Empire, and about 21,000 Irishmen were already serving in the British Army as professional soldiers. As the war broke out, tens of thousands more enlisted, encouraged by the call to defend small nations such as Belgium. For many Irishmen hoping for Irish independence this was an act of nationalism. Irish nationalist politician John Redmond believed that Irish participation would lead to Home Rule, and encouraged the Irish Volunteers to enlist, causing them to split in 1915 with the vast majority of Volunteers going on to enlist in the British Army.
However, motivations would have been different for every volunteer. In August 1914 this promised to be a short war, and some may have joined as a way to see the world outside Ireland. Unemployment was also very high at this time, especially in urban areas, and many others would have seen a chance to provide an income for their families.

Thomas and Joseph McEnroe were two such men – Thomas being the professional soldier, and his younger brother Joseph volunteering in 1916. They were the only children of the widowed Frances McEnroe of Waterford. In 1901 they were living in Wood Quay, Dublin, and both sons were working as wood sawyer assistants. On 22 April the next year 18 year old Thomas enlisted in the Royal Irish Fusiliers at Armagh, and started a military career. He was posted to India and served there until 1910, when he returned to Dublin and transferred to the Reserves. He took a job as a general labourer in a flourmill and settled down with his wife Susan. On 5 August 1914, the day after the UK declared war on Germany, he was re-engaged and became a Private in the 3rd Battalion, Royal Irish Fusiliers, and was mobilised to France on 12 September 1914. His military records show where and when he was injured. He was at the second Battle of Ypres in April 1915 – the Battle of St. Julien – and would have experienced the first German gas attack using a lethal chlorine gas. Thomas was shot through the pelvis on the 25th and was sent to Crumpsall Military Hospital in Manchester for his recovery. He was eventually discharged on 29 June 1916, aged 32, as ‘being no longer physically fit for war service’.

Joseph McEnroe – centre

One month later his 29 year old brother Joseph enlisted as a Private in the 1st Battalion of the Royal Irish Fusiliers. I could find little about his service; it seems his records are among those lost during World War II. Only his medal card survives, so we know that he enlisted on 31 July 1916, shortly after the huge losses suffered by British forces at the Battle of the Somme.

prisonersThe photograph album he made tells us more about his experiences. He was probably sent to France, and captured sometime in early 1917, as in the album he tells us he spent two years as a prisoner of war in Gettorf, a town near the Danish border. Joseph filled his album with the postcard pictures of the picturesque German town that he sent home to his wife Catherine, noting the post office, the winter gardens and cafes.

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There are many photographs of him with fellow prisoners, some posing outside barrack buildings, a football team, and scenes from plays enacted in the camp, all giving an impression of normal life, with the names of the men meticulously recorded by Joseph on the reverse sides or the album page. One particularly stands out for me – the actors on the stage dressed as schoolchildren and their teacher, but the drawn and soiled faces of the prisoner audience in the foreground tell us more about the reality of their conditions.

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One of the photographs included in this album is of the memorial in the cemetery at Gustrow, dedicated to the prisoners of war who died of starvation. POWs, though they were not generally executed, still suffered bad conditions, forced labour, disease and starvation in the camps. Joseph was probably no exception – his medal record shows he was discharged from service in September 1919, the cause listed as ‘sickness’.

Joslinereph returned home in December 1918, one month after the armistice, on the Norwegian liner the Frederik VIII, which had been chartered by the British government to transport their men back from Germany. Though the McEnroes’ story reflects the experience of many Irish families during the Great War, they are unusual in one way – they both survived. At a time when Irish households, and sometimes whole streets, were receiving news of the death of their loved one, Frances McEnroe was lucky enough to have both her sons live through serious injury and imprisonment and return home.

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The National Museum of Ireland has a number of photograph albums made by soldiers. They typically hold images of regiment group, individuals, places served, major events, and some even contain photographs of battle scenes, all captioned with names and memories. At first glance it might seem that their purpose is to celebrate their regiment and its history. A closer look gives me more the impression of a commemoration of the maker’s fellow soldiers, a way of remembering his experiences and the men who shared them with him, and maybe a desire for these not to be forgotten.

In the back cover of Joseph’s photograph album is the following inscription –

Joseph McEnroe is my name, Dublin is my station, 18 Kildare Street is my dwelling place, and Heaven is my Exportation. I hope when I am dead and gone, and all my bones are rotten, this postcard album will tell my name, when I am quite forgotten.
Joseph McEnroe 4/10/26
Late Royal Irish Fusiliers, ex prisoner of war in Germany, two years.

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Soldiers and Chiefs – National Museum of Ireland – Collins Barracks

The role of the Irish soldier in World War I is explored in the Soldiers and Chiefs exhibition in Collins Barracks, which details the participation of about 150,000 Irishmen and women in the British Army and war service during the Great War.
The National Museum will open a new exhibition and hold a seminar day in late October 2014 to mark the centenary of World War I.

© Brenda Malone. This work is original to the author and requires citation when used to ensure readers can trace the source of the information and to avoid plagiarism.

https://libguides.ucd.ie/academicintegrity/referencingandcitation

Sources and general reading used in the creation of these articles are listed on the Further Reading page.

Categories
1916 Rising World War I

The Hollywood Star and Pearse’s Missing Cap Badge, 1916

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In the late 1940s the Irish Volunteer hat and Browning 7.65mm automatic pistol used by Patrick Pearse during Easter Week 1916 were donated to the National Museum of Ireland. The distinctive Australian style hat was missing something vital – its cap badge, with no information on its loss and no indication of its whereabouts. The mystery was solved in 1977 with the publication of Hollywood Hussar by actor John Loder, famous for his roles in The Doctor’s Secret – one of the first ‘talkies’, and King Solomon’s Mines.

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Loder was born John Lowe, the son of Brigadier General Arthur Lowe, the commander of the British troops in Ireland from the beginning of the rising, and the officer who took Pearse’s surrender on Saturday 29th April. Loder had followed his father into the army in the early months of World War I, and had seen service in Gallipoli and Egypt. He arrived in Ireland on the Friday before the outbreak of the rebellion to take up his new appointment as Aid-de-Camp to his father. On the outbreak of the rising, he went with Lowe to set up his headquarters in Dublin Castle.

His account of the rebellion is brief, but he describes the fighting in the city centre, the destruction of the GPO and the death of civilians. At the end of the week Elizabeth O’Farrell came to Dublin Castle with a message from Pearse proposing the negotiation of a surrender. Loder wrote the message back to Pearse with the instructions to meet at Britain Street and surrender unconditionally, dictated and signed by Lowe. Loder was with his father at 4pm when Pearse and O’Farrell arrived. The famous surrender photograph shows Loder to the fore, his tall frame slouched slightly, cigarette in mouth.

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An example of an Irish Volunteer’s cap badge of the period. There were a number of different designs of badge, but this is likely to have been the type on Pearse’s hat.

He describes taking Pearse into detention in a staff car, accompanied by a priest, though his memory of Pearse giving the priest his watch and ring to give to his wife must be a mis-interpretation of the events; Pearse was likely passing his possessions on to his mother or sister. Loder had asked the driver of the car to continue driving past the jail’s gates in order to allow Pearse to finish giving his last messages. In gratitude, Pearse took his hat off, removing what Loder described as the Sinn Fein badge and gave it to him. He ends this recollection saying that he would have liked to have given this memento to the National Museum to join the other items belonging to Pearse, but it was destroyed in his parent’s home during the London Blitz in 1940 to 1941.

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After the Dublin rebellion, he was posted to France, fighting at the Battle of the Somme, and was eventually taken prisoner by the German Army in March 1918. After the war he continued his army career at the British Military Mission in Berlin, and on his demobilisation he returned to civilian life, setting up a pickle business in Potsdam, Germany. He turned to acting and moved to America in the 1920s, winning parts in Hollywood and later Broadway, radio and television. Described in his IMDb entry as ‘A tall, debonair, immaculately-groomed British leading man best known for his pipe-smoking chaps’, he lived the Hollywood lifestyle, complete with five marriages, until 1958 when he became a rancher in South America. He returned to London after his last divorce, and died there in 1988.

Many thanks to Michael Lee for telling me Loder’s story and providing me with a copy of his book.

© Brenda Malone. This work is original to the author and requires citation when used to ensure readers can trace the source of the information and to avoid plagiarism.

https://libguides.ucd.ie/academicintegrity/referencingandcitation

Sources and general reading used in the creation of these articles are listed on the Further Reading page.

Categories
1916 Rising

Waiting for Execution, Playing Cards, Thomas MacDonagh, May 1916

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In the previous blog post I looked at a letter written by Eamon de Valera in May 1916 in Kilmainham after he was sentenced to death for his part in the 1916 Rising. Like the majority of the 93 prisoners who received the death sentence in that month, de Valera’s sentence was commuted to penal servitude for life. In total, 16 men were executed; 14 in Kilmainham in Dublin, Thomas Kent in Cork Military Detention Barracks and Sir Roger Casement in Pentonville Prison in London.

One of the leaders whose sentence was enacted was Thomas MacDonagh. On 2nd May, MacDonagh, Patrick Pearse and Tom Clarke were court martialled and transferred to Kilmainham Gaol, where they were shot on the morning of the 3rd May.   This deck of playing cards is said to have been used by MacDonagh in his cell in the hours before his execution, and were given to the uncle of the donor by MacDonagh’s sister, a nun, who visited him in Kilmainham the night before his death. They were gifted to the National Museum in 1947.

 

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Thomas MacDonagh, born in Tipperary, started his career as a teacher, poet and playwright. He met Pearse on the Aran Islands while there to improve his Irish language skills, and in 1908 helped him found St. Enda’s School in Ranelagh, Dublin, becoming a teacher of English and French. Through his membership of the Gaelic League he met Joseph Plunkett, with whom he edited The Irish Review.

He joined the Irish Volunteers at its inception in late 1913, and was permitted to join the Irish Republican Brotherhood in 1915. By the time of the rising, he was the commander of the Irish Volunteers Dublin Brigade, a member of the military council and was one of the seven signatories of the Proclamation.

MacDonagh was first in command of the garrison at Jacob’s Biscuit Factory on Bishop’s Street during Easter Week. The area saw relatively little in the way of action, serving mostly to try to cut off British Army troops moving into the city centre from Portobello Barracks, and later supplying provisions and men to support other rebel outposts. The news of the surrender reached them on Sunday, and MacDonagh immediately went to Pearse, who at that point was detained, to confirm the order. On his return, he gave the news to his men; the surrender was official. He also gave them a choice – to surrender with him or make their escape, in the hopes of carrying on the fight for an Irish nation. You can read more about the surrender of the Jacob’s garrison in a previous blog post here.

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This deck of playing cards is not quite complete – there are 51 cards of the same set, branded ‘Gallaher’s Gold Bond Mixture’ tobacco, a Joker and Ace of Spades from a second deck, and another Joker from a third, replacing missing cards from the Gallaher’s deck. Two of these have their numbers and suits written on them, both in a different hand. They are well worn, to the extent that the Ace of Clubs symbol has been re-drawn on the card face. While it’s possible that they may have belonged to MacDonagh, it is more probable that they were given to him in the prison, perhaps by a warden, to occupy him in his final hours.

Father Augustine of the Capuchin Order, in his published personal recollections, stated that on the night of the 2nd MacDonagh had wished for his ministrations. He heard the confessions and gave Holy Communion to both he and Pearse, leaving them in prayer between 2 and 3am. He was ordered to leave the prison, and, unable to attend the executions, he returned to the gaol the next morning to retrieve the rosary beads given to MacDonagh the previous night by his sister, the nun Sister M. Francesca. There is no mention of the playing cards, which is perhaps not surprising given that card playing was disapproved of as gambling by the Church, and perhaps seen at the time as unfitting to MacDonagh’s memory.

 

MacDonagh’s last address to the court martial at his sentencing showed him to be proud to die for the cause of Irish freedom, and his friend James Stephens wrote that a British Officer who was witness to his execution said of him ‘They all died well, but MacDonagh died like a prince’.

In whatever way he spent his last hours, the playing cards bring to mind how it must feel to sit alone and wait for death in such a situation. MacDonagh had married Muriel Gifford in 1912, and together they had a young son, Donagh, and baby daughter, Barbara. Though he was accepting of his death, he must have felt the pain of knowing he was leaving his family without a husband and father.

Like Liam Mellow’s chessman, the cards may have provided some small distraction for him in those hours.

 

 

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© Brenda Malone. This work is original to the author and requires citation when used to ensure readers can trace the source of the information and to avoid plagiarism.

https://libguides.ucd.ie/academicintegrity/referencingandcitation

Sources and general reading used in the creation of these articles are listed on the Further Reading page.

Categories
20th Century Commemoration Social History

The 1913 Lockout Baton Charge – Dublin Metropolitan Police batons

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It was recently announced that €22 million will be made available for a number of heritage and cultural projects as part of Ireland’s Decade of Commemorations.

I was delighted to hear that the Henrietta Street Tenement Building is to receive funding to be developed into a museum to explore the reality of tenement life in Dublin’s north inner city.  Last year the Dublin Tenement Experience: Living the Lockout was a real highlight during the 1913 Lockout centenary, and was hugely successful.  I look forward to seeing this museum in the next few of years.

In the meantime, you can explore life in 1913 North Inner City Dublin in the wonderful Dublin Tenement Experience blog, which covers a range of topics such as personal stories from the tenements, the Church Street Tenement Collapse of September 1913, the effect of World War I on the families of Henrietta Street, and the photographs which highlighted the slum conditions in urban centres.   You can also read about the Dublin Metropolitan Police batons (NMI) which were used in the infamous Bloody Sunday Baton Charge of 31 August 1913.

© Brenda Malone. This work is original to the author and requires citation when used to ensure readers can trace the source of the information and to avoid plagiarism.

https://libguides.ucd.ie/academicintegrity/referencingandcitation

Sources and general reading used in the creation of these articles are listed on the Further Reading page.

Categories
1916 Rising

De Valera’s ‘Last Letter’, Kilmainham, May 1916

Last letter of Eamon de Valera, May 1916 (copy) (NMI Collection)

The National Museum holds many of the last letters written by the men executed in Kilmainham Gaol in May 1916 for their part in the Rising. The collection includes Patrick Pearse’s letter to his mother, and letters from Con Colbert, Michael Mallin, Eamonn Ceannt and others, written to family and friends. All these letters have common themes; a final goodbye to loved ones, a sense of acceptance of their fate and a pride in having fought for their ideals and a free Ireland. They make for emotional reading, especially with the knowledge that within hours of writing their author was dead.

Among these is also a contemporary manuscript copy of a last letter written in May 1916 by Eamon de Valera, who had his death sentence commuted to penal servitude for life and was not executed along with the other leaders of the Rising. It was donated to the museum in 1975.

De Valera leads the surrender of the Boland's Mills Garrison, 30th May 1916 (NMI Collection)

After a week of fighting and widespread destruction in the centre of Dublin, Patrick Pearse ordered the surrender of the Irish rebels on Saturday 29 April.  De Valera was in command of the garrison stationed at Boland’s Mills in the Ringsend area of the city and the outlying posts around Northumberland Road and Mount Street Bridge, which saw heavy action and many casualties. On Sunday Elizabeth O’Farrell arrived at Boland’s Mills with a surrender order written by Pearse. Though at first there was some confusion over the order, the garrison, led by de Valera, marched out of the mills along Grand Canal Street towards a barricade manned by the Sherwood Foresters and surrendered their arms. They were held overnight on the grounds of the Royal Dublin Society at Ballsbridge, and transferred the next morning to Richmond Barracks. There began the military’s task of deciding what to do with the insurgent prisoners, of which there were about 600 and rising, with some being sent to England and Wales for internment, and others detained to be tried in Ireland.

Irish prisoners being marched under guard down Eden Quay for deportation to England (NMI Collection)

Almost as soon as the Rising had begun martial law was declared, transferring power in Ireland from the civil government to the military forces. By the time of the surrender, General John Maxwell, a veteran British Officer who had served in India, the Boer War and most recently on the Western Front in the ongoing war, had been appointed Military Governor of Ireland. His decision to court martial the leaders of the Rising under martial law was problematic from the first, with even the courts’ presidents raising legal difficulties. These military trials were conducted away from the public view, and the rebel leaders had no legal defence or jury. The leaders were charged with ‘waging war against His Majesty the King with the intention and for the purpose of assisting the enemy’. Pearse, Clarke and MacDonagh were tried on 2nd May, sentenced to death and transferred to Kilmainham Gaol, which, though it had been closed as a prison since 1910, was now in use by the British Military as a detention centre for military prisoners. They were executed on the 3rd May in the gaol’s stonebreakers yard.

The speed with which these sentences were carried out caused some concern to the British government, increasing over the next days with further executions. Prime Minister Asquith was especially concerned that a large number of executions would turn public opinion further in favour of the rebellion. Moreover, Maxwell’s final decisions as to who was to have their death sentence carried out seemed irregular, with some relatively unknown figures who had been detained after the Rising, such as Michael O’Hanrahan who had been 2nd in command at the Jacob’s Factory garrison which had seen little combat, having their death sentences enacted. On the 8th May Lord Wimborne, Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, wrote to Maxwell of his concerns about this, urging him to cease the executions except in the case of ‘one or two very prominent and deeply implicated suspects’.

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De Valera, as a garrison commander, was court martialled on the 8th May and a death sentence was passed. He was transferred to Kilmainham Gaol to await his execution, and wrote this letter to Michael Ryan of Cashel, Co. Tipperary on the 9th May (it is incorrectly dated as the 4th May in the copy). He writes ‘Tomorrow I am to be shot, so pray for me, an old sport unselfishly played the game’, believing he was to die the next day, the 10th. However, on the 10th May Asquith sent an order that no further executions were to take place, though James Connolly and Sean MacDiarmada, court martialled on the 9th May, were executed on the 12th. Countess Constance Markievicz had already escaped death on the order that no woman was to be executed. De Valera also escaped his sentence when it was commuted to penal servitude for life. This raises the question as to how de Valera escaped execution.

It was commonly thought that the fact he was an American citizen saved his life, as Britain executing a U.S. citizen at such a critical time in the war would have caused diplomatic issues. Robert Schmuhl has written that the de Valera personal papers in the UCD archives show that his wife Sinead appealed to the US Consul for help, and his half brother Reverend Thomas Wheelwright wrote letters to Washington on his behalf. However, it is less likely that his citizenship saved him, but the luck of the timing of his court martial. His trial was one of the later to take place, and he was not a well known figure at this time. The executions of Connolly and MacDiarmada, which took place after de Valera’s court martial and the British government’s order to cease the executions, were likely enacted due to these men’s very prominent role in the Rising and the fact that they were signatories of the Proclamation. De Valera had not been a high profile individual in the years before the Rising, and the government had little knowledge of him. It would appear that it was generally considered that he was not important enough to be executed.

De Valera's cell in Kilmainham Gaol, May 1916

Eamon de Valera went on to play a hugely significant role in 20th century Ireland. On the commuting of his death sentence, he was imprisoned in various jails in England until the general amnesty in June 1917. He went on to play key roles in the War of Independence period, becoming the President of the first Dáil Éireann in 1919, led the Anti-Treaty side in the Civil War, became leader of the Fianna Fáil Party, was Taoiseach of Ireland at various times from the 1930s to 1950s, wrote the Constitution of Ireland, and was elected President of Ireland from 1959 to 1973 before dying at the age of 92 in 1975.

But for a moment in May 1916, as evidenced in this letter, de Valera truly believed he was about to die.

The Victorian Wing's central stairwell, Kilmainham Gaol (NMI Collection)

Kilmainham Gaol is open to the public for guided tours, and I’d highly recommend visiting this site to learn more about the long history of this gaol as well as its role in the early 20th century fight for Irish Independence.

© Brenda Malone. This work is original to the author and requires citation when used to ensure readers can trace the source of the information and to avoid plagiarism.

https://libguides.ucd.ie/academicintegrity/referencingandcitation

Sources and general reading used in the creation of these articles are listed on the Further Reading page.