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Ken Kinsella: Out of the Dark 1914-1918

Writing.ie | Magazine | General Interest | Interviews | Non-Fiction
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By Ken Kinsella

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The desire to contribute to the remembrance of forgotten Irishmen sprang from a passionate interest in the stories of those who fought and died in the First World War, frequently described as the Great War.

The military life and death of my great-uncle on 2nd November 1914 in the first Battle of Ypres was a starting point for my interest in the Great War. But, I also found it unacceptable that the scattered remains of so many Irishmen lie forgotten in foreign fields and were written out of Irish history.

The teaching of history in Irish National Schools, Secondary Schools and Universities omitted the heroic contribution of Irish men and women in the Great War. Young men of different from religious denominations – middle class and working class – poor and wealthy – the cream of Irish manhood, were slaughtered in their thousands and forgotten by successive Irish governments until the late twentieth century. Their names and the history of the war became part of the collective amnesia that gripped the new state in 1922 and lasted for decades. The hurt felt by relatives of soldiers, who were ridiculed and sometimes accused of being traitors, was understandable in the years that followed the war, and is no less relevant today. My membership of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers Association has proven to be a potent source of information and understanding of Irish participation in the Great War and has included visits to all the Battlefields on the Western Front and in Gallipoli.

The book is aimed at expanding the limited military and family information available in the public domain on officers, men and their families from South County Dublin. It is also an attempt to keep before the public eye the story of heroism and heart-break of Irishmen who fought and died together in appalling circumstances on the western and eastern fronts. War Diary reports from Irish, British and Allied Regiments, together with letters and anecdotal information, reveal extraordinary tales of courage in the face of impossible odds. The book offers readers an insight into the compelling human story of the war, which affected so many lives, not only on the frontline, but also those at home.

ken_kinsella_photo300The success of any historical research depends largely on the willingness of others to share resources. One of the biggest problems associated with a project of this kind is the difficulty of making contact with relatives of Great War dead, especially those who served in other ranks. This was partly due to the emigration of approximately 1.2 million Irish people in the years between 1891 and 1922, a trend that was to continue until the late 1960s. It is also true that many returning soldiers and relatives of war dead remained silent to avoid ridicule and unpleasantness in their communities by not speaking about the heart-breaking loss of loved-ones. This situation often resulted in a failure to pass on anecdotal information, letters, photographs, medals and other memorabilia that were hidden away to be lost or sold by the generations that followed. My exhaustive research over a period of thirteen years did result in making contact with many relatives living in Australia, Britain, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, Norway and Spain. My research included nine weeks research in the splendid National Archives at Kew, London.

While this was a man’s war, all too often women have been overlooked. Irishwomen served as nurses and worked in munitions factories in Ireland and England. Far away from the action a network of women’s committees were formed to support men at the front.The Roll of Honour also includes information on a small number of Voluntary Aid Detachments (VAD), young middleclass women who worked as temporary nurses in hospitals and clearing stations, often near to the front line. They were frequently described as ‘Lilies of the Fields’.

The book is a little different to other books written about the Great War, because it is not only a military history of officers and men, but also offers a family and social history. South County Dublin in the early twentieth century was an unequal mix of working class Roman Catholics and Protestants and a powerful minority of wealthy middle class people. Chapter one examines the history of the period from 1914 to the present time and includes detailed information on: enlistments – why did Irish men and women join in the war against the Germans? The pals’ factor,  Nationalist leaders, divided families, recruiting, the 1916 Easter Rising and the end of war. Heart-felt appreciation from a famous French soldier,  the early years of the new state, and a new dawning in the late twentieth century and a change in attitudes is also covered.

We may never know how many Irishmen of birth or blood fought and how many died in the Great War. The official figures vary between 200,000 and 300,000 enlistments and 35,000 to 49,400 fallen, but there is a body of opinion that believes the numbers were much greater. Tens of thousands of first and second generation Irishmen joined the armed forces of adopted countries, many of whom were not taken into the equation when the numbers of enlisted and dead were being calculated. The figures do not take into account all of the Irishmen in the Royal Navy and in non-military services like the Merchant Marine, who served and suffered in the Great War. We do know that about 28,000 Irishmen were serving in the British armed forces at the outbreak of war with a further 30,000 reservists, who were immediately called-up.

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Out of the Dark presents the profiles of fallen soldiers, siblings and their relatives who survived the war. In the roll of honour the reader will learn where and how an officer or a soldier in the other ranks fell; this information came from British First World War Diaries.

The main body of the book is divided into seven districts each beginning with a brief history of the people, events and institutions relating to the Great War. Each chapter concludes with the roll of honour for selected officers, men and a small number of nurses. This will include a military and family profile of those who fell, together with siblings and other family relations who served and survived the conflict. In the roll of honour for each district the profiles of soldiers are presented in military rank and in alphabetical order. However, profiles of brothers who perished are kept together, irrespective of rank.

In exploring the cross section of men who fought originating in this one small corner of Ireland, Out of the Dark demonstrates the impact of war on individuals and illustrates a picture that can be viewed at a national level

(c) Ken Kinsella

About Out of the Dark 1914-1918

As the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War draws ever closer,  Out of the Dark 1914-1918 is a major new book which examines the huge contribution and sacrifice made by south Dubliners during the conflict – against a backdrop of an increasingly volatile and uncertain political climate at home in Ireland. Over 13 years in preparation, research and writing, Ken Kinsella’s Out of the Dark 1914-1918 is an important addition to the growing scholarship and acknowledgement of this aspect of our local and national history. This fascinating and poignant history highlights the terrible losses inflicted due to Ireland’s involvement in the war, and the grief and pride of the families of South Dublin they left behind. The book, which includes numerous period images and illustrations, is available in paperback (and limited edition hardback) in bookshops from Irish Academic Press, RRP €24.95 (HB €75)

About Ken Kinsella

Ken Kinsella is originally from south Dublin and worked in business for many years before starting and growing the Irish brand Kelkin, which continues to be successful to this day – although Ken stood down from the business in the 1990’s. Ken’s great uncle was killed in the First World War – a fact that was not widely known or discussed in his family and Ken only became aware of this when he, himself, was in his fifties. This reticence, one could almost say omission, of an aspect of our history spurred Ken to research and write Out of the Dark 1914-1918

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