Galway and the Great War 1914-1918

Sergeant Major Joseph Phillips.

Sergeant Major Joseph Phillips.

On August 4 1914, Lt Col Henry Jourdain, Commander of the Connaught Rangers in Renmore Barracks, Galway, received mobilisation orders which changed the lives of thousands of families throughout the city and county. Urgent appeals for recruits were sent out. Hundreds of young men began arriving from all over Connacht. Temporary military camps were set up outside the barracks to cater for the recruits.

By Christmas 1914, many homes in Galway were affected by the loss of young family members. The early months of 1915 showed no sign of an end to the conflict, and major recruiting drives were required to feed the bloodletting across Europe.

The young male population of the city was greatly reduced in the early stages, with more than 700 men going off to war. Many of the Claddagh men were already experienced seamen, so most of them joined the navy. Members of Galway Urban Council actively encouraged men to join the army and set up the Galway Recruiting Committee in June 1915. Local authorities from around the county were encouraged to support the recruiting drives. The methods used to get young men to join up became more and more cunning. Many enlisted believing that Home Rule for Ireland would be achieved through their efforts. Employment was also a major factor, and assurances of families being ‘looked after’ if soldiers were killed or wounded also increased numbers. Newspaper advertisements, articles and letters glorified and embellished heroic deeds. The recruiting meetings brought in the element of reality to the war. People were warned that they would lose their homes, financial stability, and there was the threat of family members being raped and killed once the enemy arrived on our shores. The pressure on young men was tremendous, as girlfriends and wives were asked to use their influence to encourage them to join the army. If all failed, then ‘white feather’ tactics were always an option.

News of the armistice was welcomed in Galway as it was elsewhere. Celebrations followed, and mothers could relax in the knowledge that their sons would not end up as ‘cannon fodder’ on the Western Front. From the beginning there had been some opposition to the war by Irish nationalists. But many had supported the war as can be seen by the numbers of men who enlisted. The Irish presence on the battlefields of Europe during the Great War was considerable. The sheer numbers involved are staggering. It is estimated that some 49,400 Irishmen never returned, among them more than 1,100 Galway men.

Our photographs today show two of them, first, Sergeant Major Joseph Phillips of the Connaught Rangers who came from Rahoon. He was killed on March 21, 1918. Our second image is of Patrick Carrick of the 1st Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers who was killed at the Battle of the Somme on July 1, 1916. He was the son of Patrick and Mary Carrick (née O’Farrell ) from the Claddagh

The Old Galway Society will host a lecture entitled “Galway and the Great War” in the Victoria Hotel this evening at 8pm. It will be given by Willie Henry who has written extensively on the subject, and all are welcome. The lecture will be repeated in Galway City Museum on Saturday at 11am, and again, all are welcome.

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