While looking at the Irish artists who depicted images of the Great War, I also explored the posters used to encourage people to enlist.

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Posters from Britain and America are pretty well know – some of them even iconic. England and France were always depicted as the brave, the honourable, defenders of the week. Germany was portrayed as a brute.

WW1 Poster


I had never seen however posters that might have been displayed in Ireland. I suppose the fact the Ireland and Britain were in conflict at the time could be a reason.

download (1) images (2)They differed slightly from the British posters. The word “Britain” rarely if ever appeared on the poster; rather the names of the battalion was given and that always had an Irish connotation or connection.

There was also quite a local flavour – a soldier with a Gaelic name “Lynch” or “O’Leary” was shown with a commendation for his particular bravery. Terminology such as “self determination” would also appeal to a community who had little or no control over their everyday lives. The idea of rising to a station of “hero” or “sergeant”, being awarded for valour, being stronger that 10 Germans were all enticements to join up.

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Its also interesting to note the different depictions of characters and their dress: the Irish Colleen differs greatly from her British counterparts. The posters were particularly designed to attract the poorer elements of society; the gentry were already affiliated to Britain and would therefore be more guided by “King and Country”.

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poster ww1

The assault on Belgium was frequently used as a call to arms for the Irish. The Belgian nation was small like Ireland and needed to be defended.





Really interesting to browse through the annals of history and note the popular art work of the day!

An interesting comment on the portrayal of the Great War in Irish art

The cultural legacy of the Great War 

(from Artists and the First World War by Keith Jeffreys accompanied by examples of the artists works that I like)

The way in which the Great War was – and is – remembered and commemorated in Ireland and by Irish people exemplifies the often equivocal response, north and south, to the issues of patriotism, national sacrifice and personal loss which were raised during 1914-18 and in the following two decades. The comparatively limited cultural legacy, in terms of music, visual art and literature, clearly reflects the lack of Irish commitment for or against the war. In a sense, the war did not seem to matter to Ireland. Despite efforts to equate Ireland with Belgium, and John Redmond’s attempts to fire Irish patriotism in support of the Allied war effort, during the war itself and after there was a collective and increasing lack of engagement with the conflict.

Although a great number of Irishmen volunteered to fight, and very many died, Ireland as a whole – or at least nationalist Ireland – progressively became detached from the war, becoming, like Orpen and Lavery, and Yeats’s airman, in a sense ‘onlookers’.

William Orpen

Although Orpen never lived in Ireland after August 1915 (a one-day visit in 1918 was the only time he returned home before his death in 1931), it’s said he never lost his Irishness.

Despite his position as an official War Artist employed by the British Ministry of Information, he always seemed an outsider looking in. On the western front, he was ‘an onlooker in France’, the title he took for his illustrated war diary which was published in 1921.

There are two principal features about Orpen the Irishman and war artist.


Imperial War Museum, London; (c) IWM (Imperial War Museums); Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation


First was his detachment from the actual conflict, stemming from both his status as an official observer of the war (in which capacity he was not permitted to go up to the front), and also as an Irishman, not wholly engaged in what we might call the Anglo-German conflict.





This detachment, however, was coupled with an intense sympathy for the common soldier. In the preface to An Onlooker in France, Orpen noted his ‘sincere thanks for the wonderful opportunity that was given me to look on and see the fighting man, and to learn to revere and worship him’.


John Lavery


The second notable Irish painter of 1914-18, also an official War Artist, was the Belfast-born John Lavery. Although, like Orpen, he was an immensely successful portrait painter, his war paintings contain little of the strong human emotion displayed by his Dublin-born compatriot. Most of his pictures depict the home front, principally in a conventional landscape mode. They are not pictures of much passion, and Lavery himself afterwards dismissed his war paintings as ‘dull as ditchwater’.

William Conor


Images of the Great War were also being produced by William Conor in Belfast. Of the three artists he was certainly closest to ‘the people’. His vigorous and personable, if rather folksy, sketches of soldiers in the 36th (Ulster) Division were effectively uniformed versions of the ordinary workers. His pictures mostly dealt with the home front or soldiers training before they went overseas. They also record the role of women in the war effort.






I’ve always enjoyed studying. In the olden days studying meant pouring over given information and learning it by heart. Unless of course you had a teacher such as I had in 5th and 6th class, born before her time who knew that libraries and talking to people opened doors to limitless information. Studying family history with my mum explored these avenues of research as we visited old aunties and uncles, parish houses, libraries, graveyards.

100 storiesSince I retired I’ve had many opportunities to humour this passion. I’ve looked at the Anzac story through studying a hundred stories: World War One a history in 100 Stories is a silent presentation from Monash University, Australia that remember not just the men and women who lost their lives during the Great War, but also those who returned to Australia, the gassed, the crippled, the insane (sounds like the song “Waltzing Matilda”), all those irreparably damaged by war and their families who were part of the shaping of the world as well as the Aussie nation.

PrintTrinity College’s course on Irish Lives in War and Revolution continued the theme of WW1 leading into the Troubles. My grandfather’s involvement as leader of a Flying Column provided impetus for me to access military documents which are all online now!


arthur-ashe-athlete-true-heroism-is-remarkably-sober-very-undramaticHeroism and War, the first course I did with Leeds University was particularly interesting as it asked participants to examine their ideas of heroism. The current course is my second involvement with Leeds Uni. and is titled World War 1 through Art and Film and looks at the issue of propaganda.


The joy of these courses is that you can do them in your time and at your own speed. But most especially the design of the course encourages personal research. There is a huge range of additional video and reading material provided and some exercises that allow you to gauge your progress. There are also links to online archives suggested if you want additional reading.


Isn’t memory a very strange thing…. The triggers of words, events, numbers, dates that set your mind rambling down paths of remembering.

memory lane

A song on the radio did just that today. I remember the O’Loughlin’s singing “Twenty One Years” on journeys to Wexford or Wicklow…. A song about a young lad who was sentenced to Dartmoor Prison for twenty one years, “a mighty long time” according to the song, a rousing if unimaginative ballad that required little talent to belt out. We actually learned it on the accordion as part of an Irish medley of waltzes; I think there may have been just 3 chords in it.

But thinking about the 21 years brought me back twenty one years to January 1996:

School reopened on Monday 8th January that year and with great trepidation I returned. On 6 December Shay had been diagnosed with oesophageal cancer.  He spent the weeks up to Christmas in James Hospital and it was brilliant that he got home to spend Christmas with us. His health deteriorated pretty quickly after Christmas however and we spent New Year’s back in hospital. And yet here was I returning to school – maybe I thought that school would bring a normality to family life, a life that had changed so drastically in the preceding 33 days.

However when I came in from school on 11th January I found Shay in great pain. The truth could no longer be avoided. The doctor spoke to us both about the needs that we would have as the illness progressed faster than expected. He advised me to visit St Brigid’s Hospice in the Curragh that afternoon. His words will probably stay with me forever: “You will all need the help they can give to be courageous and dignified”.


I know the word “hospice” causes great fear and that’s certainly how I felt as I drove through the gates that Wednesday evening. Little did I realise that we had only a short 20 days before our goodbyes would be over.  I’m not sure how we would have managed without the help of that wonderful team of people who joined our family for those last days to help us all to come to terms with the inevitability?

The first years after were filled with such loneliness and sadness and anger. I was blessed to have such a great family and especially the boys and friends. And now I can honestly say: “life does go on” and “time does heal” and now January 1996 is a mighty long time ago and we’re all fine – very changed – lads grown, me older (much) and retired.


But life’s good. And snowdrops still bloom at the end of my garden!



I also found this lovely image of the Curragh taken from the gate of the hospice ……Doesn’t it make you hopeful?