The ‘War to end all Wars’ came to an end on Monday 11th November 1918. After over four years of fighting and death, it was finally over. The sense of relief is captured in the pages of the weekly newspaper, the Church of Ireland Gazette, especially its issues for 15th and 22nd November 1918. The first edition published just four days later, on 15 November, was probably in press as the news of the end trickled through and runs with the simple headline (“Laus Deo”) while by 22nd November the realities of the impact are hitting home, and the edition contains more reflective news pieces.
One hundred years on, marking the anniversary of this event, the RCB Library in Dublin is making both editions available as downloadable PDFs. Research into the armistice highlights the usefulness of the Gazette as a contemporary commentator and eye-witness on events in the past. The paper’s editorials, diocesan notices and correspondence pages, when combined with parish records, have collectively enabled Dr Miriam Moffitt once again to peel back the layers of hidden history and recover specifically how the Church of Ireland responded to the end of hostilities and other political and social concerns of the time, both at local and national level.
Although the guns fell silent on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, 1918, a few people had advance knowledge that the end was imminent. In the town of Enniskillen, the wireless operator at the barracks had managed to intercept the news very early in the morning as he listened to Marshal Foch’s message to the Allied commanders on the Western Front, at 6.45am. This was swiftly communicated to the parish rector, the Revd Arthur Webb, who arranged for the bells of the parish church be rung to mark the occasion and, within two hours, he convened services at 8.30am and at 10.30am.
High-profile services were held in churches and cathedrals in the days that followed, and Sunday, 17th November, was designated a day of special thanksgiving. So many people attended St Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin, for example, that another service was hastily arranged for the following evening. Attendance in St Patrick’s included the Lord Lieutenant, many prominent members of clerical and civic society, and large numbers of military. The chosen Psalms were those that had been sung in all churches following the victory at Agincourt in 1415, the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588, and also after Waterloo in 1815, while a special prayer of thanksgiving compiled at the Restoration in 1662 was also recited. The victory sentiment of these worship elements were balanced by sermon preached by the Revd Dr AH McNeile, Regius Professor of Divinity in Trinity College Dublin, who struck a reconciliatory tone, urging that notwithstanding four years of wartime combat, the Germans should be treated as fellow human beings: ‘We ought to be able to think of the Germans, as God thinks of them – sinful souls indeed, but souls whom He nevertheless loves, whom he died to save as well as He died to save us, whom He wants to dwell, with us, in the eternal joy of His heavenly kingdom.’
Elsewhere, thanksgiving services were held in all parish churches, often in conjunction with other Protestant denominations. In Galway, for example, a large number of soldiers and sailors came to a united service in St Nicholas Church, where the attendance was augmented by the congregations of the Methodist and Presbyterian churches whose ministers read the lessons. Parishioners in the County Down parish of Groomsport were similarly joined by their Presbyterian neighbours. The holding of thanksgiving services is further fleshed out in specific parish preachers’ book entries with varying degrees of flourish. In Blackrock, county Dublin, for example the rector, the Revd Harry Dobbs, used red ink to flamboyantly record three services held in his parish churches.
The new exhibition also explores the context in which the realities of the war’s end brought for Ireland. In many parishes, significant numbers were succumbing to the raging flu epidemic raging while a second concern worrying many people, and reflected in the pages of the Gazette, was the realisation that the outstanding political issues of the Irish situation had to be addressed – a situation captured under the 22nd November 1918 lead article, “Irish government policy and Ireland”. The Gazette recognised the deeply-held political and economic opinions on both sides and came to the view in its editorial that ‘the outlook in Ireland was rarely more dark’.
In tandem with the multitude of events taking place island-wide across the Church to mark the centenary (see listing at http://bit.ly/2PbpcpJ), it is hoped that this blog might further enable reflection and understanding of the context in which to remember those who lost their lives and why the episode that was naively termed ‘the war to end all wars’ exacted such a high death toll across all of Europe.
Dr Moffitt states: ‘The world was greatly changed between 1914 and 1918, both inside and outside the island of Ireland, as people began to reconsider their role in society, and how they believed it should function. These changes, in some ways, happened slowly, as attitudes and opinions were shaped and reshaped in response to people’s experiences over the four years. One important resource for the study of the attitudes of members of the Church of Ireland, and changes in these attitudes, is the Church of Ireland Gazette whose editorials, comment pieces, diocesan notes and correspondence provide contemporary evidence of the range of opinions found across the Church.’
Speaking from the RCB Library, Dr Susan Hood, Librarian and Archivist, says: ‘We are again indebted to Dr Moffitt for her forensic work to uncover hidden stories and make this specific contribution to the Decade of Commemorations. We are further delighted that the wealth of detail provided by the primary resource that is Church of Ireland Gazette, which we incrementally continue to make freely-searchable online has underpinned her work. In conjunction with the new exhibition, we are also pleased to announce that the digitization project (expertly undertaken for us by service provider Informa) has now reached the landmark of 1949. Thus the content of some 93 years of Gazettes from its foundation in 1856 up to and including December 1949 are all accessible and searchable here: https://esearch.informa.ie/rcb’