20 September 1914: John Redmond, the Leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party encouraged members of the Irish Volunteers to join the British army on this day. He did this in a speech at Woodenbridge, Co. Wicklow. In the wake of the British Parliament passing the Home Rule Act just two days previously [suspended for the duration of the War] he pledged his support to the Allied cause. The words he addressed to the Irish Volunteers that day were:
‘The interests of Ireland—of the whole of Ireland—are at stake in this war. This war is undertaken in the defence of the highest principles of religion and morality and right, and it would be a disgrace for ever to our country and a reproach to her manhood and a denial of the lessons of her history if young Ireland confined their efforts to remaining at home to defend the shores of Ireland from an unlikely invasion, and to shrinking from the duty of proving on the field of battle that gallantry and courage which has distinguished our race all through its history. I say to you, therefore, your duty is twofold. I am glad to see such magnificent material for soldiers around me, and I say to you: “Go on drilling and make yourself efficient for the Work, and then account yourselves as men, not only for Ireland itself, but wherever the fighting line extends, in defence of right, of freedom, and religion in this war”’.
His words were a watershed in Modern Irish History as for the first time a Leader of Nationalist Ireland called upon Irishmen to enlist in the British Army. In the months that followed tens of thousands of Nationalist Irishmen took up his call and joined up. But while initially a calculated move by Redmond to strengthen his hand the tides of History went down other channels and his bold stroke cost his Party dear - and darkened his own legacy to Ireland.