At the beginning of the twentieth century the British Army no longer held the huge proportion of Irishmen that it did in the 1830s when 40% of its men were from this island. However, close to 30,000 Irishmen were in the regular forces by 1914 and another 30,000 were reservists. Irish soldiers were stationed in locations across the empire, in units known as battalions, approximately 1,000 strong. Each battalion belonged to one of the historic regiments that recruited in Ireland, usually on a regional basis. Every regiment had its store of military traditions, going back in some cases to the seventeenth century and including participation in famous battles such as Waterloo. As well as the long history of Irish foot-soldiers, there was an officer tradition among Anglo—Irish gentry with twelve of the generals in the British Army being Irish in 1914, including Henry Wilson, from Ballinalee, Co. Longford, who was assassinated by the IRA in 1922.A lovely book of essays on various aspects of Ireland's engagement with the first world war; I'm familiar enough with the subject from my own work (my PhD thesis was on Irish science from 1890-1930 and the effects of the war were pretty significant), but even so I learned a few things, including the fact that the British government made it illegal to buy a drink for someone else in pubs. Topics address include specifics on the roles of women and of the labour movement, and on the wider societal impact of a war whose legacy in Ireland was distinctly ambiguous. The presentation is scholarly but light enough for the general but interested reader, and it is lavishly illustrated with colour copies of documents from the time, in particular the originals of soldiers' letters home, which makes it all pretty immediate. The original cover price of £15.95 must have been way below cost for RTÉ and the RIA. I hope it was offset by a government grant; money well spent if so. You can get it here.
This was the non-fiction book that had lingered longest unread on my shelves (since I could not find the guide to megalithic Northern Ireland). Next on that list is Anne Chambers' biography of T.K. Whitaker.