Irish Manhood and Nationhood: Weapons of WWI Propaganda

Contributors: Conner Wharton, Taryn Slattery, Maira Khan, Demetria Markus

Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C.  printed 1915

Artifact: “For the Glory of Ireland” Poster

Digitized by the Library of Congress, “For the Glory of Ireland” is a 1915 British recruitment poster aimed toward enticing Irish men to enlist in WWI. As the world entered war, Britain turned to many of its colonial subjects, including Ireland, to help mobilize its forces. During the circulation of this poster, no conscription mandated Irish men to enlist, forcing Britain to rely on volunteers and to often sway decisions with compelling visual propaganda. Despite being a deeply divided nation on the verge of waging a war for its own independence, Ireland supplied Britain with over 200,000 troops. Viewed as a piece of British propagandistic discourse, the “For the Glory of Ireland” poster reveals strategic political forces employed to ignite Irish notions of manhood and nationhood—two concepts most ardently intertwined and inflamed during times of war. Garnish these anxieties with the threat of gender role reversals and serve it at a table still molding its identity within an eagerly emerging nationalism, and Britain creates the perfect recipe for recruitment. 

Within a 74 x 50 cm rectangle, Britain unleashes a heavy barrage of anxieties aimed directly at the Irish male: fraternal and patriarchal obligations ricochet off threats of national and masculine pride. Suddenly, a woman with a gun stands at the center of the scene—her posture open and vulnerable, her face looking toward the man in anticipatory exhaustion. The gun at her side could easily be confused for a broom upon first glance, suggesting how swift her transition from domesticity has occurred. The man stands with his back mostly toward the audience and face partially obscured; a walking stick wedges itself between arms tucked in pockets, suggesting a physical decline in this Irish man. To the intended Irish male viewer, the man depicted in this scene represents the hesitant, restrained, walking-stick user they could become if they do not heed the expectations of the poster. More specifically, this poster appeals to the everyday working-class Irish male, given the type of clothing featured. At a time of dwindling employment opportunities, this poster exploits the traditional view of relying on men to financially provide for the family and joining the war effort out of economic necessity.  

In the background of the poster, there is a family presumably with their father in the distance, staring off at destruction labeled “Belgium.” Ireland and Belgium, both small nations with an overwhelmingly Catholic population, suddenly become counterparts in need of protection. Belgium represents a site of early German invasion and subsequent occupation wherein the destruction of civilian property and mistreatment of Belgian people were so severe, it became known as “The Rape of Belgium” (Stewart 32). The language surrounding “rape,” a term historically linked to sexual violence imposed upon women, further exemplifies how Britain engaged masculine protection to encourage Irish men to enlist. As the flames rise in the distance, the woman and children continue to invade the masculine public sphere of society, reinforcing the need for traditional family values of paternal protection. Hovering above the rising smoke, the language surrounding the heading, “For the Glory of Ireland,” presents a cause strictly for the nation, heightening the pressure to enlist in order to save all of Ireland. To seal the entreaty, the woman in the poster asks, “Will you go or must I?” Like the woman asking, the language of this question is direct, personal, and expectant of an answer.

Additional British Recruitment Posters

Challenging the masculinity and patriotism of Irish males, as well as employing the “Rape of Belgium,” continued to be prevalent and powerful themes in Britain’s recruitment posters during WWI. Additional posters digitized by the Library of Congress include, “What Have You Done For Ireland” and “Have You Any Womenfolk Worth Defending.” Posters like these were mass-produced and shown to the general public as a form of emotional blackmail. For the volunteers that needed more coaxing, recruitment posters attacking manhood and nationhood proved to be powerful tools that Britain continued to repurpose.

Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C.  printed 1915
Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C.  printed 1915

Fear of Degeneration and Loss of Irish Masculinity

These posters were a constant reminder of the outside threats aimed toward all of Ireland; they warned them that without their commitment and patriotism, danger would overtake both the Unionists, those seeking Ireland’s continued unification with Britain, and the Nationalists, those supporting independence from Britain (Casey 28). Since the 1890s, intense conflicts raged between these two groups.  In the years leading up to WWI, a movement began in Europe that was characterized by hyper-masculinity, overtly militaristic behaviors, and sacrifice. Sonya O. Rose discusses this language of sacrifice in her article “The Politics of Service and Sacrifice in WWI Ireland and India”. She explains that “European ideologies of sacrifice were influenced by or were part of a broader intellectual climate of romantic nationalism and militarism… This…accompanied concerns about physical and moral degeneration and national decline” (Rose 369). These concerns created a culture that demanded its men embody a masculinity that many saw as deteriorating. When war came, many spiritual and political leaders were thankful that it would stop the degeneration of morals and of their nation. Rose quotes the Anglican Bishop of Meath as saying, “The call for self-sacrifice was just what our nation wanted. It had been felt that as a nation we were rapidly drifting into a state of materialistic luxury and self-indulgence … .” (Rose 373). She also quotes Patrick Pearse, one of the Leaders of the Easter Rising, as saying “… [M]odern Irishmen with eyes open have allowed themselves to be deprived of their manhood; and many of them have reached the terrible depth of degradation in which a man will boast of his unmanliness” (Rose 377). This language that warned about the degradation that people of this time saw happening in Ireland was inextricably linked to masculinity and service.

Irish Women as Recruitment Props

Of course, the discussion of Irish manhood absolutely intersects with that of Irish womanhood. The 20th century cultural atmosphere in which the conception of the nationalist Irish woman was propagated provides a context for this poster. In Muscular Nationalism: Gender, Violence, and Colonial Empire, Sikata Banerjee discusses how notions of femininity that constructed the Irish woman as the epicenter of domestic life were challenged in the media. Banerjee offers the publication Sinn Fein as an example, whose column “Women—A National Asset” addressed women not servants of the home, but rather, women as dynamic, courageous nationalists whose identity derived purpose from their devotion to the nation: “So much for wives and mothers—but for us women who are not the keepers of homes or the counselors of men, there yet remains work, and good work, for the nation to do.” The column further identified Irish women’s responsibilities to “‘evolve a nation’ by teaching, working, and disseminating nationalist ideals” (Banerjee, 47). Within the context of the poster, the woman’s stance signifies a determination to honor Ireland while the man stands idle, cautious, and afraid, his hands shoved into his pockets instead of accepting the woman’s hand. This imagery clearly aligns with the definition of nationalism that Sinn Fein disseminated: it was women’s responsibility to ensure that this sentiment became weaved into society. While Sinn Fein seemed to reject the notion of Irish women as “counselors of men,” the aforementioned column frames this nationalist pursuit as a “responsibility” when in fact, it is an act of labor. Within this type of language, it is implied that the Irish woman’s purpose was derived from the arduous task of forging the image of a nation through educating others. Taking this into account, it is evident that the woman in this poster merely functions as a prop; she would not be enlisting in the war; the man would. Her presence is merely used to instigate fear of a degenerating masculinity and thus provoking him to enlist.


References 

Banerjee, Sikata. “‘MUSCULAR GAEL’ AND ‘WARRIOR MONK’: Muscular Nationalism in Colonial India and Ireland.” Muscular Nationalism: Gender, Violence, and Empire in India and Ireland, 1914-2004, NYU Press, New York; London, 2012, pp. 45–74. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt9qfwgs.6. 

Casey, Eileen. “Call to Arms – WWI Recruitment Posters.” Ireland’s Own, issue 5610, July 2017.

Jeffery, Keith. “Ireland and World War One.” BBC 2011. http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/british/britain_wwone/ireland_wwone_01.shtml

Rose, Sonya O. “The Politics of Service and Sacrifice in WWI Ireland and India.” Twentieth Century British History, Volume 25, no. 3, Sept. 2014, pp. 368–90, https://doi.org/10.1093/tcbh/hwu036.

Stewart, John P. Mobilizing Manliness: Masculinity and Nationalism on British Recruitment Posters, 1914–1915, Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, Ann Arbor, 2012. ProQuest, https://search.proquest.com/docview/1220449696?accountid=14512.

11 Comments

  1. This is such an interesting and well-written annotation! All the details of the poster are so planned out and all have a purpose in influencing the reader. It really shows how much thought goes behind propaganda in order to get into the reader’s mind and lead them to think and believe certain ideas. I enjoyed the read a lot, really great job!!

  2. This annotation was highly informative, engaging, and overall a great read! I really like how you guys included various examples of the propaganda posters that were used to recruit Irish men during WWI. Furthermore, I really like how you guys thoroughly analyzed these ideas of degenerating masculinity and nationalism to help us understand why they were so successful in getting Ireland to participate in WWI. Lastly, I like how you guys focused on women as well and the role they played in the recruitment process, by focusing on both genders I feel like we get a cohesive look and understanding of this time period in Ireland. Awesome annotation and great work!

  3. I really enjoyed your visual analysis of the poster! I didn’t even notice the little details regarding how the woman holds the gun and the man’s cane until you pointed them out. I agree with Victoria–it’s so important to understand how to critically read propaganda. I also really enjoyed your analysis of gender roles in wartime Ireland–such an interesting read!

  4. This was a very interesting read! I appreciated the analysis of what the propaganda was trying to accomplish, and how it tied in with the fears and concerns of society (particularly, of men) at that time period. It all makes me wonder at how the images and messages we’re given today are playing on our modern fears and issues (whether conscious or not). It’s interesting to think about how ridiculous those posters might look today, if they were actually put into circulation—but I also wonder how effective they were at the time, and how what we see today might look ridiculous in a few decades.

  5. This an extremely thorough and well-written annotation! I love how you pointed out details that others may have simply glanced over, especially the gendered elements of the poster. I didn’t realize how closely linked the loss of masculinity was to WWI. I also think it’s great how you bring in several additional posters for analysis to reinforce your claims. This is so well done!

  6. I loved this close reading of images! I think that art (and even propaganda or advertisements) have subtle and not-so-subtle messages through the visual means, so your attention to these details were powerful. I also think it’s interesting how much these recruitment posters attacked masculinity, showing how fragile masculinity may have been for many during this time period.

  7. This is such a well-written and interesting annotation! I am writing my individual research paper on Irish participation in and cultural remembrance of World War One and this annotation touches on many of the most salient points I discovered in my own research! I find the close reading of propaganda posters in terms of Irish ideals of militarized masculinity particularly interesting; Irish militarism as a national identity was also a way in which some veterans sought to understand their service in WWI as an *Irish* experience, and it’s interesting to see this continuity in rhetoric from colonial propaganda to the Free State!

  8. What an incredible job well done! I love how you broke your argument up into separate segments in order to strengthen your clarity and be able to effectively draw connections. Your use of sources was perfect and I love how strongly they supported the context of your poster close-read, which was amazing as well. The concept of how these overall tensions could influence the way media advertising was constructed to target a colonized nation is so very interesting and reflects a really important period in history. Thanks for such an intriguing read!

  9. “Within a 74 x 50 cm rectangle.” This phrase literally depicted the reason why that poster was important at that period. It is just a small piece of paper, however, there are many things melted in: nationalism, propaganda, patriarchy, and so on. I really love that you chose this topic and how you pointed out the role of that poster. These posters are standing not only for recruitment, but also for national level instigation and politic. Imagining about the process they should have stepped while planning those posters was such a big joy!

  10. I really enjoyed this research paper. World War II is one of my favorites (tragic) historical moments to talk about. I liked everything said on this paper, especially the “small chapters” that support the argument. Most importantly the section about discretion in the section, Fear of Degeneration and Loss of Irish Masculinity. This is not talked enough when talking World War II. That the “concerns created a culture that demanded its men embody a masculinity that many saw as deteriorating” which is situational pressure on society to forcefully behave like expected. And there is an issue with this because it subtracts fear from the equation and the idea that every man must be brave, must die for what their country stands for. However, this is not the case, and underage drafted kids have no idea what they are doing with guns and they cannot show fear and the fear eats them from the inside like a parasite.
    Overall really interesting g and fell formed paper guys. Keep up the good work.

  11. I often think o the way masculinity is usually negatively defined, and this example is no exception. A man is not a woman, and a woman doing a man’s ‘job’ threatens what a man is. Masculinity is fragile and responds to threat now but also during WWII Ireland. It’s also interesting that the woman’s facial expression suggests anger as if she has no desire to fight in the name of her country.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.