What was life like in Wexford in the three months that led up to the conflict that would be The Great War? asks Nicky Rossiter

A fact often overlooked is that Wexford was a part of Britain at the time. Regardless of rising nationalism, The Home Rule Bill wending its way through Parliament, Ireland’s Own advertising “Irish Fiction and Irish History for Irish Readers” and the aspirations of the people, the truth remains that in everyday life in the summer of 1914 the residents of Wexford in the main shared the concerns, the joys and the general lifestyle of millions of people throughout the British Isles.

During 1914, two major items appeared regularly in the news. One was the on going subscriptions towards the victims of the Fethard Lifeboat tragedy that had occurred in February.
Donations were arriving from all corners of the globe and from March to August and by the time the war started more than 36,400 shillings (unusually the fund was listed in shillings) had been acknowledged by The People Newspaper Fund with donors as diverse as The Norwegian Government and Miss Julia Powell, Kenilworth “for the relief of Patrick Cullen’s widow and children”. The other talking point was The Home Rule Bill.
In May 1914, local elections were imminent but the newspapers were reporting a distinct lack of enthusiasm. These elections would cover county and district councillors and poor law guardians.
Notices began to appear announcing meetings to select candidates.

On a national level the United Irish League held a meeting in the Town Hall in Wexford and expressed confidence in Mr Redmond and the party and support for Home Rule.
The passing of the third reading of the Home Rule Bill in London resulted in a telegram to the local newspapers in throughout Ireland who promptly displayed posters proclaiming the vote.
The mayor, Alderman Sinnott, wired John Redmond, “On behalf of your native town I offer you the fullest congratulations on the final passing of the Home Rule Bill through the House of Commons”.

Local politics continued in this heady atmosphere and the results of local elections were announced in early June. In Wexford a large crowd gathered on the Main Street opposite the Town Clerk’s office at 11 o’clock at night to hear the result. For a seat on the County Council for the Wexford Town District there were three candidates for two seats. The Labour candidate was defeated and blamed lack of funds, lack of vehicles and “open public houses” for the defeat.

On Monday, July 27th, the local force of the Volunteers was inundated with new members. This followed the firing on a crowd by The King’s Own Scottish Borderer’s in Dublin in which three died and eighty were injured.
Up to 300 foundry workers from Pierce’s marched en-masse to Wexford Park to enlist. On the night over 500 new people joined the Volunteers.

The advertisements of the day give an interesting snapshot of life as it affected the ordinary citizen.
Miss Lewis of Cornmarket was advertising as an agent for Court Laundry, Dublin and lauding them as the only Irish laundry to win a prize at the Manchester Show where it took silver for “fancy ironing” and a diploma for shirts and collars.

Some other interesting advertisements involved money lending. Various companies mainly based in Dublin offered loans that ranged from £15 to £5,000 without security. These were aimed at various specific groups. Some were for “farmers, shopkeepers and other responsible persons on their own signature”.
Another targeted Clergy and Traders with the offer of a loan in secrecy and advising not to “borrow in your own town where you and the lender are known”.
Others offered to advance money on a range of jewellery, guns, furniture, wearing apparel and other valuables. The advertisement noted that valuables sent by registered or parcel post would get prompt personal attention.

A “society wedding” was reported in May 1914 between Miss Nunn of Castlebridge and Mr O’Toole of Calgary, Canada. The newspaper report listed the full array of presents received and from whom. He gave her diamond rings, sable furs and diamond pendants while he got a gold matchbox and cigarette case. The servants gave a silver kettle and lamp. Other interesting items included a fishing rod, a case of gold safety pins, an afternoon tea cloth, a brass gong and a bible. In all over one hundred gifts and givers were listed for public perusal.

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