How Ireland Found Employment During WWI
and Why the British Screwed up again
When England threatened drafting Irishmen who were living in England it had a catalyst affect. Over 2000 flocked to Ireland to escape conscription.
Arthur Griffith promoted anti-enlistment propaganda in both large and smaller newspapers.
Griffith wrote, the strength of England lies in her armed forces. Guns and battleships are useless … and … Without a large Irish contingent in the British army that army would be of no more use in serious warfare than an armed police.
Conscription was not implemented in Ireland but like a cat outside a mouse hole, Republicans believed her majesty’s army would capture her prey eventually. Republicans devoted to an Irish Ireland needed to take action to prevent this..
How Women Saved Irishmen from being Enlisted
Nellie Gifford remembered her friends and relatives lost during the Boer War. She was concerned about Irishmen living in Britain or Irishmen who had been born there. Certainly, these poor men would fall through the loopholes. Could they possibly be conscripted? Would these men be safe? She expressed her fear to Helen Molony who suggested asking an Irish MP to pose the question in the House of Commons.
The women had a very short window of time, as Parliament sat on Tuesdays just 2 days away. The only MP who had not already left for England was Alfie Byrne. Fortunately, when they met with Byrne, they found him very cooperative.
On Tuesday in the House of Commons, Byrne asked if Irishmen living in England were exempt from conscription. When they said they were not, and they could indeed be drafted into service, it influenced a huge wave of Irishmen to move back to Ireland. Without that question put to Parliament, these men would never have known they could be drafted into the British army until it was too late. They may have lost their lives in a war they were not prepared to fight. It took a woman’s determination to make a difference.
There seemed to be another problem when all these Irishmen returned to Dublin however. How would they support themselves? Nellie Gifford (Helen Ruth Gifford) helped with this challenge as well. She opened an employment agency nicknamed the Burra.
This was easier said than done. Recruiting posters were plastered all over public places and some employers printed flyers that read: your country needs you, we don’t, meaning they would replaced younger men with older men in their positions of employment.
Irishmen were being penalized for not enlisting in the British army.
Nellie needed to enlist the help of her friends. First she got the names of anyone who was sacked and gave out her own name and address at Temple Villas. This did not sit well for very long with her parents so she found another location when they made her move out.
Countess Markievicz, always sympathetic to anyone in need, offered Nellie a room on the top floor of 6 Harcourt Terrace. The room was too small to shelter so many dismissed young men at once and finally Thomas MacDonagh offered his room as well which was the Volunteer Headquarters on 2 Dawson Street. So this room had a dual purpose but as far as the British were concerned it was an simply an Employment Bureau.
Michael Collins was one Irishman who came back from London seeking a job. He naturally ended up at Nellie’s Burra. She recommended him as an assistant to Joseph Plunkett, one of the leaders of the Easter Rising.
The following post is just one way women took an active role in the making of the Irish Republic as well as working toward a better life for those less fortunate than themselves.
This post is an excerpt from: Petticoat Rebels of 1916, Extraordinary Women in Turbulent Ireland.
The book is due to be published in Feb of 2017. Pre-orders will be available at a reduced price in Jan. If you would like a Review copy in Jan., leave a comment below or email me @firstname.lastname@example.org.