August 4, 1914 saw the outbreak of World War 1. Four Months later the hopes of many were dashed, however, one flicker of light shone like a beacon - that of the Christmas day truce between the German and British armies. However, events in Ireland that Christmas could not have been more different. One week earlier, on 19 December, the radical nationalist newspaper, The Irish Volunteer listed what it referred to as 'Acceptable Christmas Presents'. These included a list of everything that was required 'to equip the Soldier for the Field'. The newspaper was not talking about the soldier in Flanders but here in Ireland where the National Volunteers were expected to take up the defence of Irish shores the following January, under the command of the British war office.
Writing on the issue on 22 December, Liam de Roiste a radical nationalist and diarist believed that the use of the volunteers by the British government was a clever move. De Roiste believed 'they (the government) probably hope, a German force will be up against national sentiment'. On 23 December, the Cork Examiner voiced the concern of many, which was how long the war would last? However, the editorial did not give any dates or time when it expected the war to end, but it did state that many of the guesses forwarded by experts have come and gone and there was still no sign of an end. Nevertheless, the editorial believed it would depend on the number of men and materials that were required to fight. In other words, the war would end when the warring nations could no longer put men and materials into the field.
Another concern was the growing sense of loss that many people had experienced since the war began, a concern expressed in the Christmas Eve edition of the Freeman's Journal. It believed that Ireland should now be celebrating a Christmas that restored the national rights of the nation (several months earlier Ireland had received Royal Assent for Home Rule). However, this would not now be the case due to the 'awful effusion of blood, of suffering and death', that had visited many Irish homes that Christmas. And instead of a 'prayerful Christmas' the major issue that would concentrate the minds of many that Christmas was their loved ones that were fighting in the battlefields of Europe, dead, never to return.
The same day, the Cork Examiner's editorial mirrored the editorial in the Freeman's Journal, with one marked difference. The Cork Examiner concerned itself with how the French and Belgian peoples would now celebrate Christmas with a war raging in their lands. As if, to emphasise that Christmas was in itself a season of peace and Christian ideals, the Cork Examiner suggested that, Christmas was now a 'time of blood-lust, of slaughter, of poverty and horror'. Another was the plight of the poor and those who supported them. This was something that also concerned Liam de Roiste. He felt that the war did not offer any greater opportunities to Ireland's growing numbers of unemployed and the poorly paid workers who lived in towns and cities, only a higher cost of living.
Two days later, on 26 December, the Cork Examiner editorial could not hide its disgust at the dropping of a bomb on Dover on Christmas Eve. It suggested that instead of terrifying the people of Great Britain and Ireland with such attacks, the only thing Germany got out of it was a 'waste of good petrol'. Five days later, on 31 December, Liam de Roiste writing his last entry for that year, expressed his belief that the Great War was like the tower of Babel, when man and his pride tried to storm heaven itself, but were humbled by God - something that may happen to men again matter what achievement man - made. Strangely, though the tower of Babel that Liam de Roiste wrote about would continue for another four years before finally come to an end on November 1918 with the loss of ten million men and countless numbers wounded, maimed and shell shocked, something that no one expected or believed four years earlier on Christmas Day 1914.
Author: Dave Hennessy