Edward Madigan

Royal Holloway, University of London

Edward Madigan is Lecturer in Public History and First World War Studies at Royal Holloway, University of London. His work combines cultural, social and military history and he is particularly interested in the British and Irish experience and memory of the First World War. Before joining the history faculty at Royal Holloway, he was the resident historian at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. From 2012 to 2013 he sat on the UK Government’s Centenary Events Planning Group and he currently sits on the editorial board of the 14-18 Online Encyclopaedia and the executive committee of the International Society for First World War Studies. His publications include Faith Under Fire: Anglican Army Chaplains and the Great War (2011) and, with John Horne, Towards Commemoration: Ireland in War and Revolution, 1912-1923 (2013). Edward is co-editor of the popular Historians for History blog and he is currently researching Anglo-Jewish responses to the First World War and the British experience of the Irish War of Independence.

Between the Poppy and the Lilly

A Century of Conflicted Irish Commemoration

In the decades after 1918, pro-British Unionists, especially in Ulster but also in other parts of Ireland, proudly and respectfully commemorated the sacrifices members of their community had made during the Great War. Among the wider Irish population, memory of the war and attitudes regarding the conflict were more mixed and generally more muted. Armistice Day commemorations in cities such as Dublin, Limerick and Cork were generally well attended in the 1920s and ‘30s, poppies were quite commonly worn in the Free State, and prominent nationalist politicians expressed a certain amount of reserved sympathy for the Irishmen who had been killed in the conflict. In Irish popular, official, and academic memory, however, the experiences and stories the soldiers of the Great War were eclipsed by those of the men who fought against the British Forces in the Easter Rebellion of 1916 and in the Anglo-Irish War. British army service was rarely regarded with esteem in independent Ireland and the memory of Irish soldiers of the Great War became increasingly obscure and peripheral as the century wore on. By the 1980s, Irish participation in the ‘war to end all wars’ had been largely forgotten by most Irish people.

In the past twenty years or so, this generalised amnesia has been replaced with a keen and growing curiosity and, today, interest in the First World War is intense across the island. A number of factors combined to bring about this change in mentalities, but the peace process that began with the Good Friday Agreement of 1998 has had a major influence. Indeed, an ironic but positive situation has emerged in which the shared memory the bloodiest war in Irish and British history has been used to help people move beyond the violence of the much more recent past. The history of Irish commemoration of the First World War has thus been one of fairly continuous re-evaluation and, importantly, re-imagination. This process of evolving remembrance continues to be ongoing and is shaped in the present by the collapse of the power-sharing government in Northern Ireland and, above all, by the looming shadow of Brexit and the threat of the return of a hard-border between the North and the Republic. This paper will explore the complexity of Irish commemoration of the First World War in recent decades and offer some commentary on the way the memory of the conflict has been used to build bridges within communities and across national borders.

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