It’s a Long Way to Tipperary

It’s a Long Way to Tipperary was one of the biggest hits of World War I. The tune was written in 1912 by disabled songwriter Harry J.

Williams from Warwickshire and Jack Judge, a music hall performer from West Bromwich. It was their most successful song and in recognition of this the first line of the lyric is inscribed on the tombstone of Williams.

Men by the million marched to the memorable melody. The song was sung by soldiers from almost every nation on earth. For most of the singers Tipperary was foreign, a faraway place with a strange sounding name.

Not so for the almost quarter million Irishmen who packed up their lives, said goodbye to their Dolly Grays and went off to fight for the Empire and the freedom of small nations — a confusing contradiction of concepts.

Many of these men had answered John Redmond’s call for volunteers, believing they were fighting for Home Rule for their motherland. Close to 50,000 of them made the ultimate sacrifice.

Propaganda of the period was so effective that, in some cases, boys as young as fourteen lied about their age and were accepted as cannon fodder, no questions asked. Women — mothers, daughters and wives — were encouraged to shun men not in uniform. Occasionally these women publicly presented white feathers, the symbol of cowardice, to such men, some of whom were actually home on leave from the trenches.

Meanwhile, the Irish War of Independence was initiated by Pearse and his patriots. More Irishmen took up arms, but this time against the British. These men were the Irish Volunteers.

In Ireland some saw the Irish survivors of The Great War as traitors, others hailed them as heroes, but many of them were seen by all for what they really were, shattered shells of their former selves. They, and their families, carried the wounds of war — loss of limbs, blindness, shell-shock, nightmares and disease — for the rest of their lives.

Redmond’s Volunteers — at least those who came home — were written off in history as “The men that don’t fit in”.

Left: A poster representing Home Ruler John Redmond calling for volunteers at the height of World War I.

By Ken Casey