Specters of Empire: Remembrance of the Great War in the Irish Free State, 1914-1937
Link, Mandy R.
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The following analysis argues that from 1914 to 1937 the experiences of Irish soldiers in the First World War was not a significant part of the post-independence narratives that Sinn Feiners attempted to establish. This failure to incorporate war memory and commemoration in to the national story was largely based on the separation of British and Irish identities, republican anti-imperial rhetoric, violence towards commemoration, and ultimately a lack of support from either the Free State government or the majority of the Irish public. Members of both the Cumann na nGaedheal and Fianna Fáil governments increasingly separated Irish and British identities. This separation of identities was reinforced by members of the Irish Republican Army, and political republicans, amongst other members of the public. As the Irish people were forced to choose between an Irish or British identity, British symbols and events were increasingly portrayed as imperial and thus, non-Irish by republicans who wanted a purely Irish state devoid of all vestiges of the British Empire. Despite this, ex-servicemen and the bereaved were able to negotiate meaning for their experience, particularly during the Irish Civil War when anti-imperial rhetoric was redirected towards each side that conflict. This negotiation space continued in 1924 when some Irish sought to re-unify southern Ireland around commemorating the Great War. This ability to assert a positive place for the Great War and its ex-servicemen steadily dissipated by the mid-1930’s in the face of anti-imperial and anti-British republican rhetoric and violence towards would-be commemorators. Scholarly works on Irish commemoration of the Great War traditionally focus on large scale, public acts of remembrance like parades, monuments, and propaganda. This dissertation seeks to create a more nuanced understanding of Irish remembrance of the war by examining more than these public acts and explores the relationship of the three spheres of remembrance: official, popular, and personal.