Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Children In War

Dublin was one of the poorest cities in Europe when the First World War broke out. Its slums were notorious, the buildings so degraded that they sometimes collapsed from rot. Overcrowded, ridden with disease, it was no wonder that a boy looking for some sort of future would seek any means to escape.

Joseph Pierce Murphy joined the Royal Navy as a boy sailor, someone unskilled, not unlike an apprentice. Unlike his wealthier counterpart, he was not admitted as a midshipman. That was for his betters, the ones destined to become officers because they were upper class. He was around 20 years of age, and his family would have been delighted that they had a member with a steady job and a reliable source of income. It was 1910 when he signed on, and his career looked relatively safe. His term of service was to be twelve years. There was no telling how far he might go in those twelve years, but he was out of the slums of Ringsend where a boy his age had no hope of finding much work of any kind.

While the young Mr. Murphy was learning his trade as a sailor, becoming a signaller and earning a promotion to petty officer in June of 1914. Within a matter of two months, England was at war with Germany and what might have seemed a fairly safe career changed entirely.

One hundred years ago today, Joseph Pierce Murphy died when the ship on which he served struck a mine in the North Sea. Ironically, the German ship that laid the mine was sunk just the day before, but it was too late for Mr. Murphy. Along with thirteen of his countrymen, he was one of the first battle casualties of a war that did not end all war, but did put an end to European monarchies and give a group of Irishmen the notion that the time was right to launch a rebellion against Great Britain.

A memorial service to honor the young man will be held at a church near his boyhood home, to be attended by his descendants who still reside in the area.

They say they are proud of him, of his accomplishments in a short life, but it has taken one hundred years for the Irish to grudgingly accept the notion of sacrifice during the Great War. Many felt that the Irish were used as cannon fodder, their bleak poverty caused by English rule becoming a driving force to encourage men to sign up to fight. They should have been fighting in the streets of Dublin, many thought, and when that day came in 1916, those who served the King became objects of shame.

One hundred years later, opinions are changing and historians are looking back with a slightly different slant.

Now to come to grips with the centennial of the Easter Rising and who should be allowed to attend and what do we do with the Queen of England now that she's been invited?

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