Home or away: the Great War and the Irish Revolution A great sacrifice: Cork servicemen who died in the Great War

Published in 20th-century / Contemporary History, Issue 2(March/April 2011), Reviews, Revolutionary Period 1912-23, Volume 19

Home or away: the Great War and the Irish RevolutionKevin Johnston (Gill & Macmillan, €15.99) ISBN 9780717147328

Home or away: the Great War and the Irish Revolution
Kevin Johnston
(Gill & Macmillan, €15.99)
ISBN 9780717147328

As the centenary anniversary of the outbreak of the Great War approaches, the body of literature on the Irish experience of ‘the war to end all wars’ grows apace. As with other areas of Irish history, popular historians lead the march and are some way ahead of their counterparts in the universities. The past decade has seen the publication of a plethora of very accessible books that explore the military, social and cultural dimensions of what was arguably the most pivotal event in modern Irish history. Most of these volumes, however, have focused either on the fortunes of Irish combatants in the various European or Middle Eastern theatres of war or on the domestic encounter with revolutionary violence, overlooking the significant overlap between the two. By considering these narratives in tandem, Kevin Johnston’s Home or away attempts to correct the persistent but misguided tendency to view the Great War and the Irish Revolution as distinct, almost unrelated events.

In the opening chapter the author displays a firm grasp of the structural dynamics of the British army and gives a good overview of the various British and Irish personalities who directed the war effort. Subsequent chapters are loosely chronological and cover a range of themes and events, including the experiences of Irish soldiers in British uniforms at Gallipoli and on the Western Front, the planning and enactment of the Easter Rising, the British handling of Irish sedition and the social impact of the war in Ireland. As befits a volume aimed squarely at the popular market, the text is written in a lively and engaging style. When detailing issues such as the growing anti-war sentiment in the aftermath of the Rising, moreover, the author demonstrates a keen aptitude for making complex historical themes interesting and understandable to the uninformed reader.
Unfortunately, however, Johnston appears to have carried out no archival research and his use of secondary sources is highly selective. A small number of well-known books by more established

 

A great sacrifice: Cork servicemen who died in the Great War Gerry White and Brendan O’Shea (eds) (Evening Echo Publications, €39.99) ISBN 9780956244314

A great sacrifice:
Cork servicemen who died in the Great War
Gerry White and Brendan O’Shea (eds)
(Evening Echo Publications, €39.99)
ISBN 9780956244314

historians have been plundered, while the output of some of the most noted authorities in the field has been completely ignored. Essays from John Horne’s edited volume Our War, for example, are paraphrased at length throughout the book, and it ends with a brief coda that relies entirely on Roy Foster’s Modern Ireland, 1600–1972, a text first published almost 25 years ago. Ground-breaking books by Tim Bowman, Fearghal McGarry and others, by contrast, do not even feature in the bibliography. The author’s failure to engage with the output of Keith Jeffery, who has referred to the war in Europe and the events of the Irish Revolution as integral parts ‘of essentially the same story’ and has published volumes on Ireland and the Great War, the Easter Rising and General John Maxwell, is particularly striking. Thus, although Johnston should be commended for producing such an accessible narrative and for attempting to interweave foreign and domestic events from 1914 to 1918, readers already familiar with the now sizeable historiography of the period will have to look elsewhere for fresh insight.
Of potentially greater interest, to both the academic historian and the general reader, is A great sacrifice: Cork servicemen who died in the Great War. This impressive volume, edited by Gerry White and Brendan O’Shea, is lavishly illustrated throughout, features several short but well-researched essays on a variety of different themes, and lists the names and circumstances of death of over 3,700 men from Cork who served in the British and US armed forces during the Great War and were killed, or died, as a result of that service. While some of the essay contributions would have benefited from more thorough copy-editing, they really draw the volume together and make it much more than a straightforward work of reference. White and O’Shea’s overview on ‘Cork and the Great War’ and John Borgonovo’s piece on the activities and frustrations of demobilised veterans in post-war Cork are particularly insightful.
The stated aim of the book is ‘to provide a record of Cork servicemen (and women) who died during or as a result of the Great War between 4 August 1914 and 31 August 1921’. The moving lists of the war dead certainly give a very clear indication of the sacrifices made by the people of Cork during the war, but this huge tome actually does quite a bit more besides. The juxtaposition of these voluminous lists with high-quality photographs and illustrations and brief but nuanced essays powerfully evokes the spirit and atmosphere of the age and adds significantly to our understanding of the war experience of Ireland’s largest county. HI

Edward Madigan is a Centre for War Studies Research Fellow at Trinity College Dublin.

Home or away: the Great War and the Irish Revolution
Kevin Johnston
(Gill & Macmillan, €15.99)
ISBN 9780717147328

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