When war broke out in August 1914 one of the great rallying calls of the politicians and the Catholic Church in Ireland was that Irishmen should enlist to fight on behalf of Belgium, a small catholic country being terrorised by Germany.
It was not uncommon in those early days of the war for Belgium to be likened to Ireland in terms of how it was being made to suffer for its catholic faith and the politicians who favoured the war were quick to use the analogy in their efforts to persuade young catholic Irishmen to enlist in the British army.
In general, the war also found favour within the Catholic Church in Ireland which was aghast at the early reports coming out of Belgium suggesting, rightly or wrongly, that the population there was being persecuted because of its strong catholic faith.
So, in those early weeks and months of the war the Catholic Church in Ireland was to the forefront in the condemnation of Germany’s actions but as the conflict dragged on the very obvious support from the pulpit for it waned especially when the number of casualties mounted and the tales of horror emerging from the trenches began to make an impact on the Irish people.
In 1914 the Catholic Church had real authority in Ireland and so the Irish people listened to and obeyed what was being preached from pulpits across the country. Many priests were quick to claim that Belgian Catholics were at the mercy of an unforgiving and monstrous Germany and that it was the duty of Catholics everywhere in Europe to go to the aid of Belgium.
Ireland of 1914 listened to its priests and it was no surprise that thousands of loyal Catholic Irishmen answered the call to arms by their church. While many Catholic priests preached in favour of the war and openly encouraged their male parishioners to enlist some of the clergymen were prepared to lead by example and joined up as soon as war was declared.