Eamonn Duggan continues his history series on Ireland in 1914
In August and September of 1914, John Redmond’s call for Irishmen to enlist and fight in defence of the Empire and to uphold the principle of democracy, met with a positive response. However, not everyone was inclined to agree with the leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party and his belief that Ireland had a ‘moral duty’ to take part in the conflict. When Redmond addressed the Irish Volunteers at Woodenbridge in September 1914 he encouraged them to enlist and “fight wherever the firing line extends”. This exhortation caused alarm among some members of the Irish Volunteer leadership, leaving them with little option as they saw it, but to issue their own statement denouncing Redmond’s speech.
They maintained that Redmond had announced a policy that was “fundamentally at variance with their own published and accepted aims and objectives”. Inevitably this disagreement among the leadership caused a split in the Irish Volunteers.
As it turned out, most Volunteers, about 140,000, were won over by Redmond’s argument and many answered his call to arms. About 12,000 Volunteers decided to support Eoin MacNeill and the rest of the organisation’s leadership who opposed Ireland’s involvement in the war. They would stay at home and eventually concentrate on preparations for the Easter Rising of 1916.