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Remembered Today:

The Anglo-Irish and the Great War


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On 29/05/2017 at 15:11, Guest said:



Staunton. Thanks for your thoughts.


You mention stats on Irish OR recruits by religion - I would be grateful for the source if possible.

Ditto the stat that the Irish in the pre-war ARmy were 32% Protestant - can I ask the source of the stats?

Ditto the breakdown by Regiment - implied by the stat on the RIR - can I ask the source of the stats?


The only stats I have seen to date are either made up by authors such as Cooper (10th (Irish) Div) and regurgitated by subsequent authors, or the pre-war stats available in the General Annual Reports of the British Army (GARBA) which provides Nationality and Religion for the Regular Army and by Arm, but no breakdown at regimental level. ...so I would be very interested in tracing the source data that you mention. 


Separately the 25% figure - is this protestants as a % of Irish serving in the Army and is this;

Regulars or

Regular + Reservists (Army Reserve and Special reserve) or 

Regular + Reservists (Army Reserve and Special reserve)  + Territorial Force


The reason I ask is that the Irish as a % of the Army is a figure that most authors get wrong by a factor 50% (overestimated) as they usually omit the Reserves and the TF  - the latter group represented 34% of the Army in 1913 and of course had very few Irishmen as a % of the total. By my calcs the Irish-born as a % of the British Army in 1913 were no more than 7.2% against a 1911 Census benchmark of 7.5% - slightly under-represented - contrary to what some authors would have us believe. As one example in his book "Wherever the Firing Line Extends" author Ronan McGreevy in his introductions states;


"The percentage of Irishmen in the British Army continue to decline as the [19th] century progressed and Irish depopulation continued. In 1890 the Irish represented just over 15 per cent of the British Army, but Catholics constituted 18.7 per cent of the same Army, many of them Irish emigrants or their descendants..."


The trouble with this statement is that GARBA shows hard data for the Army which demonstrates that the Irish were no more than 9.4%. of the British Army in 1892 (the nearest data I have to hand. The calculation is out by a factor of 1.6 times. McGreevy's figure only appears to include the Regulars, Reserves and Militia (the figure is 14.9% for 1892). It omits the Imperial Yeomanry and the Volunteers which (combined) accounted for 36.5% of the Army or close to a quarter of a million men. Aside from the London Irish and Liverpool Irish, it is difficult to find enough Irish diaspora in English, Scots and Welsh Volunteer Battalions (later the TF) to make sufficient adjustments to get a figure anywhere close to 15%. It is a very common error in books that touch the Irish service in the British Army, and one that makes me extremely cautious of any stats on this subject. 


Lastly the Irish regiments generally had the worst recruiting records and retention records in the Line Infantry in the decade before the Great War.They recruited fewer and retained fewer which rather challenges the ideas promoted in some publications that


"The Irish recruit was regarded as healthier, better nourished and sturdier than his city-based English, Scots or Welsh equivalent. He was less likely to be turned down for military service. He could bear more hardship". *


It is racially based hyperbole like this that continues to distort perceptions of the reality. Of those Irish recruits who should have made it to the Reserves they had the lowest retention rates in the whole Infantry. At the bottom of this pile were the Connaught Rangers who had less than half the number of Reservists than the best recruited (English) line infantry regiment. 


Edit. In fact the loss ratio among the Irish was recorded (see below). As a random example, in 1908 2.71% of Irish recruits were discharged for medical disability within 3 months of enlisting compared to just 1.62% of English recruits and a UK average of 1.90%. GARBA has data on every Regimental Recruiting district. Within the Irish regimental districts No. 12 District Southern Irish including RIR,Connaught Rangers, Leinsters, RMF and the Metropolitan area of Cork loss ratios of 2.21%, 2.81%, 3.41%, 5.08% and 3.44% - all significantly higher than the English average. It is worth remembering that these are the recruits that passed the initial medical. The facts don't support the hyperbole. 


Edit 2. The data is also at odds with the claim that rural Irish recruits were more robust than the city based English recruits. The 7th Foot (Royal Fusiliers (City of London Regt) had a loss ratio of just 0.56% more than three times lower than the Southern Irish regiments. Liverpool was 1.52%, Newcastle 1.69% etc... 



Martin G


* Quoted in McGreevy's "Wherever the Firing Line Extends" citing Graham Davis "In Search of a Better Life: British and Irish Migration" p. 17. 



A belated reply to Guest post of May 2017 - has to root out some notes from 1987 (!)


"the stat that the Irish in the pre-war ARmy were 32% Protestant - can I ask the source of the stats?"

Former State Paper Office documents of Dublin Castle now at National archives of Ireland (since 1990) - ref "1916 Supplementary File" in "Recruitment: Irish in British Army as of 15 October 1914 (Estimated 10 Nov 1914)" Irish in Regular Army x 20788 of which RC 14197 and Protestant 6583. This is 32% v the 26% of 1911 Census. Breakdown also given for

Special Reservists 68/32

Regular Reservists 68/32

Wartime Recruits to date 37/54 & 9% unknown to mid-Oct 1914.


"Ditto the breakdown by Regiment - implied by the stat on the RIR - can I ask the source of the stats?"

Country Religious Breakdown Stats from 1911 Census can be grouped by Regimental District to arrive at this - Both RIR counties Antrim and Down were 80% Protestant approx, the other 7 regimental districts were majority RC. Army recruits were disproportionately Urban (lived in towns 2000+) so a similar analysis of the 25% Irish population which was Urban would be interesting (eg Dublin/RDF District was 20% Protestant in 1911).   


Very interesting on the low retention rate of Irish Reservists ! 




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PS Just noticed that the figures for Regulars and Special Reservists cite as of 1 Oct 1913

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