The end of the First World War

Published in Editorial, Issue 6 (November/December 2018), Volume 26, World War I


While not a ‘special’ as such, this issue has a particular end-of-First-World-War emphasis. Mark Phelan reminds us of how the Central Powers were eventually defeated (pp 24–7); Monika Barget, Pádraig MacCarron and Susan Schreibman retrieve yet another aspect of the heretofore hidden history of women’s involvement (‘Sphagum moss and female agency’, pp 32–4); and John Horne reflects on the New World Order brought into being after 1918 (pp 28–31).

Beyond the pages of this magazine, the past five years have witnessed a huge upsurge of interest at both local and national level in what in quantitative terms was the greatest war involving Irish people—c. 200,000 served, of whom c. 35,000 would lose their lives. And in that context how often have we heard the tired cliché that this involvement had been forgotten? Apparently not, in the light of Barbara Walsh’s article on the Armistice Day reminiscences of former members of the Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps (pp 36–9).

This has surely been a positive development, but—as Jonathan Evershed points out in his Ghosts of the Somme (reviewed by Brian Habley, p. 65)—commemoration of the First World War has often been presented, bizarrely, as a form of peace and reconciliation, in which ‘criticism of the role of the British state … [is] almost wholly absent from public discourse and the prevailing official narrative’.

The ending of the war had another direct consequence for Ireland: the ‘khaki election’ of December 1918, which produced Sinn Féin’s landslide victory (p. 70), the establishment of the First Dáil, the War of Independence and the Civil War. In that sense Ireland was part of the ‘Greater War’, conflicts that broke out before 1914 (e.g. the Balkan Wars) and that were to continue until 1923 (as John Horne observes). But sinn scéal eile and one to which we will return next year with the third of our special supplements—A global history of the Irish Revolution.

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