In this bonus episode of the first season, historian and Western Front Association Trustee, Gerry White delves into Ireland’s military history from 1912 to 1923. Gerry, who served forty-three years in the Irish Defence Forces and retired in 2017, brings his expertise and insights to the discussion.
The talk begins with the formation of the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) and the Irish Volunteers. In 1912, the Ulster Volunteer Force was established by Unionists in Ulster to resist home rule for Ireland. In response, the Irish Volunteers were formed in 1913 by nationalists to support the cause of Irish independence.
Gerry goes on to explore the impact of World War I (1914-1918) on these groups. As the war broke out, both the UVF and the Irish Volunteers split on their positions regarding the conflict. Many Irish Volunteers joined the British Army, forming regiments such as the Irish Guards and the Royal Dublin Fusiliers.
During the discussion, Gerry White highlights the significant contribution of Irish divisions during the Battle of the Somme in World War I. He specifically mentions the 10th (Irish Division), the 16th Irish Division, and the 36th Ulster Division. These divisions, composed of Irish soldiers from various backgrounds, fought bravely in the grueling battles on the Somme, leaving a lasting impact on Irish military history.
The discussion then moves to the significant event of the Easter Rising in 1916. Gerry highlights how the Irish Republican Brotherhood, alongside other nationalist groups, staged an armed rebellion in Dublin. Although the Rising initially failed, it had a profound influence on Irish public opinion and laid the groundwork for future independence movements.
The focus then shifts to the Irish War of Independence (1919-1921), during which the Irish Republican Army (IRA) emerged as the military wing of Sinn Féin. Engaging in guerrilla warfare against British forces, the IRA targeted police, military installations, and British sympathizers. This conflict ultimately led to the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty in 1921, which resulted in the partition of Ireland into Northern Ireland (remaining part of the UK) and the Irish Free State.
The final topic discussed is the Irish Civil War (1922-1923), which was triggered by the split within the nationalist movement following the Anglo-Irish Treaty. Gerry explains how those who supported the treaty, led by Michael Collins, formed the Provisional Government of the Irish Free State, while those opposed, led by Éamon de Valera, organized the anti-treaty forces. The ensuing civil war saw clashes between these factions, resulting in the defeat of the anti-treaty forces and the establishment of the Irish Free State.
Aside from his extensive military service, Gerry has represented Ireland at the Centenary Commemoration of the Battle of the Somme at Thiepval in 2016. He has also authored several books and articles on aspects of Irish military history for the period 1913 to 1923 and frequently lectures on the subject. Currently, Gerry is actively involved in building the WFA organization on the island of Ireland.