“What have you done for Ireland? How have you answered the Call? Are you pleased with the part you’re playing in the job that demands us all? Have you changed the tweed for the khaki to serve with rank and file, as your comrades are gladly serving, or isn’t it worth your while?” – An extract from a World War I recruitment poster
There are very few national relationships quite as complicated and enigmatic as the one that exists between the English and the Irish. For two peoples so interconnected by geography and history, the depth of animosity that is often expressed is difficult at times to understand. At the same time, historic links of family and clan, and common Gaelic roots, have at times fostered a degree of mutual regard, interdependence, and cooperation that is also occasionally hard to fathom.
During World War I, for example, Ireland fought for the British Empire as part of that empire, and the Irish response to the call to arms was at times just as enthusiastic as that of other British dominions such as Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. And yet, at the same time, plots were unearthed to cooperate with the Germans in toppling British rule in Ireland, which would have virtually ensured an Allied defeat. In World War II, despite Irish neutrality, 12,000 Irish soldiers volunteered to join the Khaki line, returning after the war to the scorn and vitriol of a great many of their more radical countrymen.
One of the most bitter and divisive struggles in the history of the British Isles, and in the history of the British Empire, played out over the question of Home Rule and Irish independence, and then later still as the British province of Northern Ireland grappled within itself for the right to secede from the United Kingdom or the right to remain.