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  • Writer's pictureBridget Walsh

Researching my next Irish historical novel.

I’ve been researching the First World War for my fourth novel. My main character, an Irish-American woman, gets drawn to volunteer in Dublin in 1914.

Originally, I didn't want to write about the First World War because I felt it had been written about in many brilliant stories. For example, Vera Brittain’s memoir about the war in ‘Testament of Youth’ is an amazing record of her life and losses in the Great War. I recently watched the film ‘All Quiet on the Western Front.’ It won four Oscars for its depiction of young German soldiers in the Great War. These are just two of the many examples of excellent novels and films about the War.

My Irish Ancestor

As I planned the novel, I wanted to honour the memory of my Irish grandfather who fought in the War. He was one of 150,000 Irishmen who volunteered.

When I started my research I found that many young women also volunteered. At the time, politically, Britain had promised to bring in Home Rule for Ireland, but put the plans on hold for the duration of the war. Many thought that the war would be over in just a few months and rushed to volunteer. In doing so, many felt they were supporting small nations like Belgium, which had been invaded by Germany, and also wanted to show their support for the Irish Home Rule Party led by John Redmond.

Ireland after 1916

It was only after 1916 that attitudes began to change, and not just because of the Easter Rising and the shooting of the Nationalist leaders. I think change came about because the war showed no signs of ending and there had been huge loss of life, and also talk of conscription which didn't go down well in Ireland.

The First World War and my next novel.

However, in 1914, my main character, Ellen Tuite, travels from Boston to Dublin, and during her visit, she meets a new volunteer, John Doyle, from Rathnew in County Wicklow, a young man similar to my grandfather.

John and Ellen become friends, and this marks the start of Ellen’s journey of self-actualisation as an IrIsh-American woman and potentially, like Vera Brittain, a lifelong pacifist.

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