Letters of 1916: Questionable comments from an Irish Playwright?


The Letters of 1916 project is one which has proved already to be a great resource for a number of academic subjects. The letter to George Bernard Shaw(1856-1950) from Joseph Michael Stanley(1890 – 1950) on the 28th of March 1916 is a compelling one. Stanley worked for the Gaelic Press and asks Shaw whether or not the material in his book “Three Plays for Puritans” would cause any offense or prejudice towards recruiting. The military authorities had just taken the copy off one of his journalists, Shaw’s reply is rather witty commenting on a line within one play calling King George specifically “a pig headed lunatic”(Letters of 1916). Shaw continues to comment that maybe the military authorities mixed up the kings.

Now, it seems that it is only a brief conversation between two but the implications from it are astounding for the academic world. This is the true beauty of the Letters of 1916, it allows for a wide range of study. Within this one page letter, so much information is given towards the historical setting, the cultural problems and the social ideas. The history of recruiting in Ireland has always been a tenuous subject due to conscription which had been introduced. The recruiting process had been documented by various historians around the time of 1916 and into more recent studies. Arthur Griffith summed it up perfectly for the Irish Nationalists by stating “Ireland is not at war with Germany. She is not at war with any continental power. England is at war with Germany. We are Irish Nationalists and the only duty we can have is to stand for Ireland’s interests”(McKenna). As a result it is very interesting that military authorities in the middle of World War 1 still had the time to raid the Gaelic Press. An important point here is that there was still a focus on the Irish State even though there was such catastrophe on the mainland of Europe. The importance of Ireland to Great Britain and the necessity to ensure security on the isles remained a key issue for the kingdom. This historical angle of the letter can be further researched on the site by looking for similar letters from George Bernard Shaw or searching through the section it is placed in, World War 1.

The division of letters into sections greatly improves the usability of the site. Instead of an archive like system which reams of letters are placed in one collection they are spread through collections on religion, family, love letters etc. This usability is further enhanced through the friendly presentation of the project and the easy to understand instructions. The instructions based around marking up the letters helps anyone without any transcription experience contribute. The toolbox’s system is very user friendly and allows for work to be done before being confirmed for publishing on the website.The want to contribute derives from was has been mentioned above, interest. This interest has grown and grown to ensure that the first ever public history project in Ireland will be a hugely successful one.

McKenna, Joseph. Guerrilla Warfare in the Irish War of Independence, 1919-1921. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2011. Print

“Letter from Joseph Michael Stanley to George Bernard Shaw, 28 March 1916.” Letters of 1916. N.p., n.d. Web.

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