This project set out to explore Irish speaking soldiers from east Belfast who took part in WW1, highlighting a little known aspect of the lives of some of those who fought. Cairde Turas assembled a team of 15 volunteers who worked on the project between November 2018 and summer 2020. Our starting point was the Census of 1911, focusing on people living in the DEDs of Pottinger, Victoria and that part of Ormeau east of Ormeau Park.
Based on the 1911 Census data, we identified males who were between the ages of 10 and 40 in that year, and who had been returned as Irish speakers in the Census. This generated over 600 names. These were then cross-referenced with the Great War Database, which had been compiled by Jason Burke and which contains information on over 6,000 WW1 soldiers from east Belfast. Only in those cases where a soldier’s address at the time of enlistment was the same as on Census night 1911, and where his attestation papers were available, could we be certain of a positive match. The cross-referencing resulted in 80 definite matches and a further 25 possible matches. We focused solely on the definite matches and eliminated a small number where some doubt or ambiguity existed. This left 74 soldiers.
We then set about searching for information on these 74 soldiers. From the Census data we knew a little about them and their families: Their age, occupation, marital status, parents’ occupations, number of children or siblings and so on. So we knew about their family situation. We traced their military history through websites such as Forces-War-Records.co.uk, Ancestry.com, astreetnearyou.org and sadly in some cases through the website of the War Graves Commission. Trawling through newspapers during the war years provided some additional information while online searches of birth, marriage and death registrations and Belfast street directories helped us learn about their spouses and their lives after the war. We also made extensive use of other websites containing information on WW1, soldiers and particularly soldiers from east Belfast. Great War Clippings was a very valuable resource for us.
We made contact with several local history, family history and heritage groups working in east Belfast and with individual historians to further develop the work. We undertook a digital consultation (using twitter, facebook and mailchimp) to elicit more information on our soldiers and to promote the project. Our plan to research the Conradh na Gaeilge membership files to identify any of the soldiers involved in the Gaelic Revival Movement had to be postponed due to the ongoing work of archiving those files.
To support our research, we undertook a programme of training for the project team. We had training in the history of Irish in east Belfast, accessing historical material, researching the census and online resources, photography, digital mapping and tour-guiding. Based on our research we produced an exhibition, published a leaflet and developed this website which includes an interactive map providing information on all the soldiers.
Our project, although no longer funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, is ongoing and we welcome any comments and relevant information, and especially any additional information on the soldiers.
Michael Boyd, Graeme Denny, Richard Guthrie, John Harron, Paul Lynas, Bronagh MacShane, Mary Matthews, Jim McCauley, Rosemary Moorehead, Honor Nicholl, Caoimhe O’Connell, Muriel Orr, Annelies Taylor, Jackie Wylie