Only one major Irish newspaper picked up the cause of promoting recruitment during the Great War, writes Mark O’Brien, of Dublin City University. The author analysed the coverage three national, Irish newspapers gave to a press tour of the front lines arranged by the British War Office. The papers in question are the Irish Times, the Freeman’s Journal and the Irish Independent.
The British organized a four-day tour of the French battlefields in January of 1916. Irish press in general had been invited to propagate for enlistment, which had been on the decline after early enthusiasm had worn off, and especially after the disasterous loss of lives in the battle of Gallipoli in 1915. To appeal to unenlisted men, seven Irish newspapers (of which the three national ones are investigated here) were invited to visit Irish troops in the field.
Despite the War Office’s open call for help in recruitment, both Freeman’s Journal and Irish Independent largely ignored the cause. They did cover the tour and many aspects of the war in detail, but hardly mentioned the need for new recruits nor promoted the idea. Only Irish Times was loyal to the tour’s host’s wishes, and mentioned the need for new recruits in all of its related articles.
Regardless of the propaganda efforts, the enlistment of Irishmen continued to wane until the end of the war. According to O’Brien, the cause may have been overtaken on the public agenda by the Easter Rising and the subsequent re-emergence of active Irish insurrection.
The article ‘With the Irish in France’ was published by the journal Media History. It is available online (abstract free).
Picture OFFICIAL PHOTOGRAPH TAKEN ON THE BRITISH WESTERN FRONT IN FRANCE, by Unknown, licence CC0 1.0.