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What is striking about UCD’s attitude to the simultaneous and sometimes antagonistic crises of war and revolution is UCD’s spirit of equality in the way it received both conflicts. 

Dr Conor Mulvagh

UCD School of History

The UCD War List and Roll of Honour, an Armistice Centenary

Conor Mulvagh, UCD School of History

Two years ago, on the centenary of his death on 9 September 1916, UCD unveiled a plaque in honour of Tom Kettle, arguably the most famous of UCD’s war dead, in the Rose Garden beside Belfield House. On that day, UCD opened a new chapter in remembering a cohort students, staff and graduates who served in the British Military during the First World War. This November, as the world marks the end of a conflict that witnessed death and destruction on a scale previously unknown, University College Dublin seeks to fuse the local and the global to examine its own relationship with the war in all its complexities and contradictions.

The First World War broke out at a time when the university was still in its infancy. In total, 116 students joined up during the war. At the time, the university had an enrolment of around 700 students, of whom 500 were eligible for service. This was by no means an insignificant absence in the corridors of Earlsfort Terrace.

The Irish Revolution and Ireland’s participation in the First World War are intrinsically linked. The two events were at all times symbiotic and the violence of one echoed the violence of the other. Ireland on the eve of war was one in a state of complexity and anticipation. Between suffrage, the Lockout, and the question of Home Rule – the latter having reached fever pitch by the summer of 1914 – Ireland was in a state of intense political upheaval when the war broke out.

In the midst of all this, the newly established National University of Ireland was finding its feet. In Dublin, University College Dublin was expanding its premises; freshly populated with a crop of new professors in subjects of national importance from Celtic languages and history to education, economics, law, and the sciences. One can imagine the discussions in the staff common room between Douglas Hyde, Eoin MacNeill, Agnes O’Farrelly, Tom Kettle, Mary Hayden, Thomas MacDonagh, and Thomas A. Finlay to name but a few of the extraordinary generation who filled the new professorships and lectureships at UCD from 1909 onwards. UCD’s academics had been at the centre of founding the Gaelic League, the Irish Volunteers, Cumann na mBan, Irish Women’s Suffrage and Local Government Association, and Irish Women Workers’ Union, and the Dublin Industrial Peace Committee. In equal parts the war halted and jolted these social and political forces.

On the outbreak of the war, at least two members of UCD’s staff were stranded on the continent. The Professor of National Economics, Tom Kettle was in Belgium, acting under the orders of Irish party leader John Redmond procuring arms for the Irish Volunteers. Kettle was pitted in a race to Ireland’s coastline with Erskine Childers and the Asgard. Kettle remained in Belgium after the successful conclusion of his gun-running mission and acted as war correspondent for the Daily News. Upon his return to Ireland, Kettle signed up to join the British Army initially being consigned to recruitment duties in Ireland.

The second UCD Professor who was found to be absent after the summer holidays in 1914 was Heinrich Bewerunge, UCD’s first Professor of Music. Bewerunge had been a leading light in ecclesiastical music in Ireland having arrived at Maynooth in 1888. In 1913, he was appointed Professor of Music at UCD. He delivered his one and only series of lectures in Trinity Term 1914, set and corrected exams, and took a holiday back to the land of his birth – he was from Westphalia. In Germany at the outbreak of the war, Bewerunge decided to remain where he was rather than return to Ireland to face inevitable internment as an enemy alien in one of the sites of alien internment like Templemore in County Tipperary where not a few interned aliens succumbed to disease and death.

In 1914, the then President of UCD, Professor Denis J. Coffey, was keen for UCD to lead rather than follow the national mood at a time when the advent of Ireland’s self-government seemed inevitable. Irish nationalists wanted to show that Ireland would be a loyal and active participant in the United Kingdom following Home Rule. President Coffey made a sincere offer to the War Office in the spring of 1915 to establish an Officers’ Training Corps at UCD but the offer was rejected out of hand. This rejection of this earnest offer of assistance underlines the perceived lack of trust for Irish nationalists by the British military. In spite of the lack of support and official recognition, 488 UCD students, staff and graduates volunteered for service in the war.

Two-thirds of the UCD War List is comprised of individuals serving in medical rather than combat roles. Some like Lieutenant-Colonel Edward P. Connolly or Staff Surgeon James Barrett had obtained medical degrees from UCD (Royal University of Ireland) and, long before the conflict broke out, took commissions in the Royal Army Medical Corps and the Royal Navy.

Others were medical students or recent medical graduates like brothers Thomas and James Enright who both qualified from UCD with medical degrees in 1914 and joined the Royal Army Medical Corps shortly after the war broke out. In the case of the Enright brothers, although James came home and lived a long and full life, his brother Thomas was killed on 19 March 1918 in Salonika in Greece. Even on the Lusitania, as a member of the mercantile marine, Assistant Surgeon Joseph Garry from Ennis, Co. Clare, was a graduate of medicine from UCD. Being a medic by no means meant they were safely removed from the dangers of the front line. Two-fifths of the wounded and a third of the UCD personnel killed were serving in medical rather than combat roles.

Neither does the war list conform to the image of a war centred on the western front. Captain Louis McKeever, a medical doctor born in Killiney in Dublin died while attached to the Royal Scots Fusiliers in Palestine and is buried in Gaza. Captain Thomas J. Keating from Ballinamult, Co. Waterford, is buried in Bagdhad where he died, aged 24 in June 1918. All told, UCD’s war dead are buried in ten different countries across Europe, the Mediterranean, and the Middle East with the nearest burial in Glasnevin, Dublin and the furthest in Basra, Iraq.

Like other universities across Ireland and Britain, UCD supplied many young men to fill the ranks of the junior officer class whose role in leading their men on the battlefield exposed them to some of the most acute dangers in the industrialised killing fields of the war. John J. Doyle, an engineering student and Frank Brendan O’Carroll, a law student, both served side by side as officers of the 6th Battalion, Royal Dublin Fusiliers. On 10 August 1915, three days after their battalion landed at Suvla Bay, both men were killed during heavy fighting.

Likewise, Tom Kettle was not the only member of the UCD community to die on 9 September 1916. Further down the line of trenches, Hugh O’Neill Maguire, an engineering student from Mayo was killed serving as a second lieutenant in the 3rd Connaught Rangers. Of the four – Doyle and O’Carroll in Gallipoli, and Kettle and Maguire in the Somme – none of their bodies were ever recovered to be given a proper burial in a marked grave. Doyle and O’Carroll are commemorated on the Helles Memorial in modern Turkey and Maguire and Kettle are listed on the Thiepval monument in northern France among the 72,000 names listed on that memorial and for whom there is no known grave.

The professors of Botany and Physiology were among the ten UCD staff who rendered their services to the war effort. Among three of UCD’s demonstrators in anatomy turned army doctors was Henry S. Meade who began service with the French Red Cross, then the French Army, before taking up his position with the Royal Army Medical Corps in 1915.

Again, in the spirit of preserving life in time of war, Bertram J. Collingwood had been Professor of Physiology at UCD since 1912. In 1915, after the first gas attack of the War, he gave his services to the Research Department on Measures for Protection against Poisonous Gases. In 1916 he was appointed chemical adviser to the Irish Command, eventually receiving his commission into the Royal Army Medical Corps with the rank of Major. A keen sportsman, the Collingwood Cup of the Irish Universities Football Union for soccer bears his name to this day.

In terms of ministering to the troops, Rev. John Gwynn S.J., a member of the UCD Governing Body, served as an Army Chaplain in the war. Gwynn was killed on 12 October 1915 when an artillery shell landed at the door of the medical officer’s dugout in which he was stationed. Every one of the stories behind the forty-three members of the community who did not return is equally tragic; lives extinguished far from home.

What is striking about UCD’s attitude to the simultaneous and sometimes antagonistic crises of war and revolution is UCD’s spirit of equality in the way it received both conflicts. In January 1922 at the foundation of the State, UCD’s Governing Body decided that those who had fought in the Irish independence struggle would be treated in exactly the same way as those who had fought in the war resolving that ‘exemptions should be granted to students of the College engaged in the recent struggle similar to war exemptions.’

Speaking at a centenary commemoration at UCD, the Vice-president for Research and head of the UCD Commemorations Committee, Professor Orla Feely said: “Today we acknowledge our place in the history of the First World War in conjunction with the university’s diverse role in the Irish Revolution. We do so in a spirit of historical maturity, cherishing our past students and teachers equally, seeking to understand the past in all its complexity.”

Image: screen grab from ‘UCD Students/Staff Who Died in the Great War’; a dataset comprising a listing of student and staff of University College Dublin who participated in, and died in, World War I (UCD Digital Library). Link: http://digital.ucd.ie/view/ucdlib:256142

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