The Irish at Gallipoli 100 years on

In this centenary year of the Gallipoli campaign the main focus of commemoration in Australia and New Zealand has been the anniversary of the landing on 25 April. For the Irish, however, August rather than April is the most significant month. Although three Irish battalions took part in the landing at Cape Helles as part of the 29th Division, it was in August that the Irish arrived in strength with the 10th (Irish) Division taking part in the major offensive that was intended to break the stalemate which had set in after the original landings three and half months before.

The August offensive also has significance for Australians and New Zealanders as it saw their soldiers engaged in battles which have become iconic in each country’s remembrance of the campaign. For the Australians it is Lone Pine; for the New Zealanders it is Chunuk Bair.

But in each case Irish soldiers of the 29th Brigade of the 10th (Irish) Division fought in support of their Antipodean allies. At Lone Pine the 5th Connaught Ranges assisted the 1st Australian Division by clearing the dead and wounded from the labyrinth of Turkish trenches while the fighting raged around them. At Chunuk Bair the 6th Royal Irish Rifles, the 6th Leinster Regiment and the 5th Connaught Rangers fought alongside the New Zealand Brigade. A few weeks later the soldiers of all three nations fought literally shoulder to shoulder in the struggle to take Hill 60.

In the meantime, the remaining brigades of the 10th (Irish) Division, the 30th and 31st, landed at Suvla Bay on the morning of 7 August and over the following weeks suffered huge casualties trying to extend the Suvla beachhead by capturing the high ground of Kirsch Tepe Sirt, which dominated the allied position.

In the end the Turks held firm against the August offensive, confining the British forces to their narrow footholds around Anzac Cove and Suvla Bay. And in the overall campaign they prevailed leading to the evacuations in December and January.

Gallipoli was a severe defeat for the military forces of the British Empire, and was to have a profound effect on its emerging nations. Anzacs and Irishmen both came away from the peninsula convinced they had been mucked about and butchered by the incompetence of the British generals. But, unlike the Australians and New Zealanders, for whom Gallipoli had a salutary effect on the nation-building process without rupturing relations with the British Empire, the Irish were not so forgiving.

Separatist nationalists, who were opposed to the war, exploited the Dardanelles fiasco to whip up anti-British sentiment, while moderate nationalists began to lose faith in the idea that supporting Britain in the war would assure home rule. For some it was Gallipoli rather than the Easter Rising of 1916 that marked the moment their feelings towards the British began to turn.

So, the Gallipoli campaign is an important event for all three nations, yet the cost was high in lives lost – 8700 Australians, 2700 New Zealanders and more than 3000 Irishmen – and in lives shattered. For that reason alone Gallipoli deserves to be remembered, not only in Australia and New Zealand but in Ireland as well.

Further information: The July/August issue of History Ireland contains an article I wrote outlining the part which the Irish played in the August offensive, while University College Dublin’s History Hub hosts a six-part podcast I recorded called “The Irish at Gallipoli”. In addition, in the Autumn issue of Reveille I rebut an allegation by a New Zealand historian that the 6th Leinster Regiment fled during the battle for Chunuk Bair. Far from fleeing, the evidence indicates that the Leinsters helped save the day when the Turks counter-attacked and threatened to drive the British Empire troops off Rhododendron Ridge, the spur running from Chunuk Bair down to the sea.

21st Australasian Irish Studies Conference

The 21st Australasian Irish Studies conference will be held at Maynooth University from 18 to 20 June 2015. The conference series was initiated in 1980 by the renowned Irish historian Oliver MacDonagh. Keynote lectures will be given by distinguished scholars including Guy Beiner from Israel and the Irish scholars Margaret Kelleher and Terence Dooley. The strong international character of the conference is ensured as a result of proposals from Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, Britain, the United States, Spain, Belgium, Serbia, Italy and Korea. Those attending the conference will find it a rich and rewarding insight into the contemporary state of research and writing on diverse areas of Irish history, literature and culture. You can register for the conference online through the conference website.

Centenary of the Gallipoli Campaign

The centenary of the start of the military phase of the Gallipoli campaign on 25 April 1915 will be well commemorated in Australia and New Zealand, as might be expected. Although many thousands of Irishmen served at Gallipoli and died there, the campaign is not well known in Ireland and has not been widely commemorated there. In recent decades ex-pat Australians and New Zealanders have conducted ceremonies in Dublin on the anniversary of the landing at Grangegorman Military Cemetery and at St Ann’s Church in Dawson Street. This year, however, with the centenary of the campaign, a number of events in Ireland will mark the occasion.

Beneath a Turkish SkyOne in particular should attract considerable interest. At 3pm on 25 April 2015 at the Dublin City Library and Archive, 138-144 Pearse Street, Philip Lecane will give a talk entitled “Beneath a Turkish Sky: The Royal Dublin Fusiliers and the Assault on Gallipoli” This is the title of Philip’s forthcoming book which is scheduled for publication in June by The History Press Ireland. It is not widely known that during the landing at V Beach at Cape Helles the Irish suffered more casualties than did the Australians and New Zealanders in their landing at the beach at Anzac Cove.

Other events include the “Gallipoli 100” conference In Kells, County Meath, on 24-25 April 2015 in St Columba’s Church of Ireland church in Market St and a wreath laying ceremony at the Mayo Peace Park in Castlebar. No doubt there will be many others.

In addition, the History Hub at University College Dublin is publishing a six-part series of podcasts on the Irish at Gallipoli which I recorded during my time as the Keith Cameron Chair of Australian History in 2014.

Irish Anzacs Project

IAP Logo 3The Irish Anzacs Project is a significant research undertaking of the Global Irish Studies Centre (now called Irish Studies at UNSW), made possible by a grant from the Irish government’s Emigrant Support Program. The project aims to identify all Irish-born enlistments in the Australian Imperial Force during the First World War, or as close to all as is practicable, and to compile a publicly accessible database containing information on each of them. The database will provide families with information on their Irish-born family members who served in the war as well as providing statistical information to assist researchers understand the contribution of the Irish to the Australian war effort.

The information in the database has been extracted from service records held by the National Archives of Australia and includes the following details: name, town and county of birth, date and place of enlistment, declared age, occupation, marital status, next of kin location, previous military service, religion, and the unit to which initially posted. Over time, additional information is being added from other sources such as the Roll of Honour, the Embarkation Roll, the Nominal Roll, the list of Awards and Decorations and the Red Cross files relating to the wounded and missing and to prisoners of war, ultimately producing for each soldier a comprehensive record. When completed the database will contain details of more than 6000 Irish-born soldiers and nurses who enlisted in the Australian forces.

Mr Charlie Flanagan TD launching Irish Anzacs database in Ireland at UCD

The Irish Anzacs database was launched in Ireland on 17 October 2014 by the Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs Mr Charlie Flanagan TD at University College Dublin with a live Skype link to the Global Irish Studies Centre at the University of New South Wales in Sydney. The launch of the database was followed by a full-day symposium “Emergent Nations: Australia and Ireland in the First World War – Gallipoli, Conscription and Commemoration“. The Australian launch of the Irish Anzacs database will take place on 28 March 2015 during the 14th Australasian Congress on Genealogy and Heraldry in Canberra.

To access the Irish Anzacs database go to the webpage of Irish Studies at UNSW.