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'The Fighting Race'? Contested Images of Irish Soldiers in the First World War

Image showing poster from First World WarThis Leverhulme-funded project, led by Dr. James McConnel, will produce the first dedicated study of Irish nationalist propaganda in favour of the First World War. Rather than taking a theoretical approach to how propaganda was used to justify Irish involvement, the project focuses on how nationalist propagandists sought to make sense of the war and structure popular responses to it through selected narratives and, in particular, by (re)fashioning the contested image of the Irish soldier. In focusing on the cultural (re)construction of the figure of the Irish soldier, it examines how the Irish soldiers' persona (e.g., apparel and voice) was ethnically fashioned and how his character traits were scripted in an effort to present Ireland’s contribution to the British Army as historically compatible with the nationalist ‘cause’ and militarily significant in terms of augmenting Britain’s fighting power.

It situates this culturally mediated image in relation to racialised depictions of pre-war Irish soldiers as ‘stage Irishmen’, as well as republican and unionist constructions, exploring how these were contested and/or reinforced by pro-war nationalists after 1914. Using speeches, texts, images, uniforms, objects, and songs, this project examines the cultural production of the Irish soldiers’ image in order to demonstrate that pro-war nationalist propaganda was much more sophisticated than existing interpretations have acknowledged.

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