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Recruiting for the Great War in Mayo
By Alan King
4, Aug 2014 - 03:06

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Recruiting for the Great War

In September 1914, two months after the outbreak of the Great War, the British Prime Minister Herbert Asquith travelled to Dublin in order to appeal to the Irish to enlist and fight for peace. Standing alongside him in the Mansion House was John Redmond, M.P., leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party. The publicity given to the meeting was the start of the official recruitment process even though thousands of Irishmen were already part of the British war effort; these were the soldiers of the British Expeditionary Force which was rapidly dispatched to France as soon as war was declared.

In Mayo, recruitment was at first very slow until November 1914 when twenty-five young men from Ballinrobe enlisted. Twenty of them were members of the local corps of Irish Volunteers and their decision to enlist attracted a lot more men from around the county. It's estimated that by March 1915 over a thousand men from Mayo had enlisted.

Recruitment Offices were set up all over Mayo. In Castlebar, the local Post Office on Church Hill (Mountain View) was used as an Office.

A Central Council for the Organisation of Recruiting in Ireland was created in 1914, to be replaced in April 1915, by the Department of Recruiting in Ireland. Neither managed to sustain the initial surge in recruitment achieved in the first six months of the war. It is estimated that 45% of total enlistments were made between the 4th August 1914 and the end of April 1915.

(Callan, P, 'Voluntary Recruiting for the British Army in Ireland during the First World War', PhD Thesis, UCD, 1984)

The Marquis of Sligo, His Majesty's Lieutenant for County Mayo formed a Central Recruitment Committee for the county and a Sub Committee for each of the four Parliamentary divisions. The constitution of the Committees was sent out by John Garvey, D.L. Ballina, who held the office of Controller of Recruiting for Mayo, to be read out at meetings of Mayo County Council and at the various District and Urban District Councils.

In early 1915, Captain (later Major) Nicholas J. Balfe was appointed Recruitment Officer for Connaught and immediately visited the main towns to enlist as many men as he could.

In April 1915, one of his first meetings was held in the Main Street of Castlebar in which a very large crowd attended. Mr. A.C. Larminie, J.P., Castlebar UDC presided and there was also speeches by Mr. T.S. Moclair, Mayo County Councillor. Following this, several meetings were held in Castlebar Town Hall when cinematograph war pictures were also shown.

In September 1915, Lord Wimborne, the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland became the Director General of Recruiting in Ireland and immediately conducted a tour of the country in order to boost the numbers of men enlisting. His tour coincided with a national reduction in the numbers enlisting. From a height of over 50,000 who enlisted country-wide from August 1914 to February 1915, numbers had fallen to just over 25,000 from February 1915 to August 1915.

Jeffrey, Keith, Ireland & the Great War, Cambridge Press, 2000

In March 1916, a Recruiting Conference was held in the Town Hall, Castlebar for the purpose of considering the Lord Lieutenant's new scheme for obtaining recruits and appointing sub-committees to carry it into effect.

The new scheme provided for the appointment of two paid recruiters - one military and one civilian for each market town in the county. Suitable soldiers from the County Battalion would be sent to help the paid recruiters in the distribution of literature and in the canvassing of recruitable men. The scheme also provided for the establishment of a County Ladies' Recruiting Committee and a similar Recruiting Committee of both sexes in each parish of the county.

Framed Certificates of Honour were issued to all men who enlisted and were presented to their relatives. They were used as a tool of persuasion and usually took place at recruitment meetings in order to maximise their use.

There is no agreement on the total number of Irish soldiers who served in the British Army and Navy in the First World War. Professor Keith Jeffery, Queen's University, Belfast gives a figure of 210,000. There appears to be a consensus that at least 35,000 died though the figure on the National War Memorial is 49,400.About 140,000 enlisted in Ireland during the war. The increase in 1918 is worth noting. The first year total of Irish recruits exceeded the total of the remaining three years of the War.

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