Why the events of 1918 impact upon us today

Why 1918 events impact upon us today
John Redmond

Dr Ivan Gibbons previews a timely series of lectures at the ICC in Hammersmith

by Ivan Gibbons

Hammersmith Irish Cultural Centre’s 10th annual lecture series on Irish history takes place next month. This year the ICC will be continuing the theme of “The Decade of Commemorations” looking at Ireland in 1918.

This was a pivotal year in modern Irish history. Growing disillusionment with the increasing cost of the war in terms of Irish lives lost plus the refusal to grant Home Rule severely undermined the Irish Parliamentary Party (IPP) whose leader John Redmond (who died in 1918) had resolutely supported both.

British proposals to extend Conscription to Ireland led to a mass campaign led by Sinn Fein, the political heirs of the 1916 Easter Rising, and the Catholic Church in which the IPP were mere bystanders. The granting of the vote to all Irish males and some Irish women in 1918 substantially contributed to Sinn Fein’s election victory at the end of the year so that Home Rule was permanently overtaken by militant republicanism.

Meanwhile, the substantial Labour movement was marginalised by the rise of Sinn Fein and in the north was being split along sectarian lines.

Our first lecture on Wednesday 2 May will be by academic, painter and Longford man Bernard Canavan on “The Conscription Crisis and the Collapse of Home Rule” and examines the reasons for the extinction of Home Rule as a political force in Ireland in 1918 and considers how relationships between north and south and between Ireland and Britain might have been different throughout the 20th century if Home Rule had triumphed rather than Sinn Fein. On Wednesday 9 May Dr Mike Mecham examines the career of William Walker, perhaps the most prominent Irish labour leader of the early twentieth century who died in 1918.


A century on, Walker is almost unheard after opposing Home Rule, seemingly appeasing sectarianism and clashing with James Connolly. Mike has recently completed his PhD on Walker and will ask whether this Protestant socialist who worked tirelessly for the Belfast working class should have a more deserving place in Irish history.

Continuing the Labour theme Dr Ivan Gibbons on Wednesday 16 May describes how the strong Labour voice in Ireland was marginalised by the rise of militant nationalism. This was best evidenced by Irish Labour standing aside in the 1918 general election as, in de Valera’s famous phrase “Labour must wait” pending “the resolution of the national question”.

Arguably that has meant Labour waiting ever since as there was no Labour voice heard in the crucial years between 1918 and 1922. When Labour did re-emerge it was as an adjunct of the two main nationalist parties in independent Ireland – a role it has been consigned to ever since. Ivan Gibbons is the author of the recently-published “The British Labour Party and the Establishment of the Irish Free State 1918-1924”.

On Thursday 24 May (note the change of day this week) Professor Senia Paseta, Professor of Modern History at the University of Oxford lectures on “Suffrage and Citizenship in Ireland”.

Senia argues that the vibrant political context in which Irish women organised prepared them exceptionally well for political citizenship when the vote was finally won in 1918. Senia has published widely on modern Irish history including the history of nationalism and feminism. Her most recent research is on women’s political activism in Ireland between 1880 and 1925.

Finally, as we approach the commemoration of the end of the First World War Ivan Gibbons reprises a lecture he first gave at the Houses of Parliament to commemorate the beginning of the war.

It is again appropriate to remember not only the 200,000 Irish soldiers who fought in the war but also a relatively neglected aspect of the Irish contribution – the twenty Irish MPs both nationalist and unionist who served in the war with 4 MPs and 4 Irish peers losing their lives. In addition, many sons of both nationalist and unionist Irish politicians were killed. This is their story.

All lectures commence at 7pm at Hammersmith Irish Cultural Centre, Blacks Road, London W6 9DT You can enrol on Eventbrite in advance or come along on the evening (space permitting!) Each lecture costs £5.

For further information check the Centre’s website on www.irishculturalcentre.co.uk or ring 0208 563 8232 We look forward to seeing you.

Dr Ivan Gibbons is the organiser of the Ireland 1918 lecture series and is a Director of Hammersmith Irish Cultural Centre.

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