In the years preceding the outbreak of World War One political life in Ireland centred on the struggle to achieve Home Rule. On the 28th September 1918 Asquiths Home Rule became law with the support of the Irish Parliamentary Party led by John Redmond. Its provisions were immediately suspended for the duration of the war.
World War One, as it came to be known was expected to be over in a matter of months. Redmond, William O'Brien and other nationalist leaders called for support for the war. The more radical wing of the nationalist movement opposed the war. This difference in attitude towards the war led to a split in the Irish Volunteer movement in Cork as in the rest of the country.
Support for the war was widespread in Cork. Many men volunteered for the army and organisations were set up to support the troops, the wounded and the families of those in the armed forces. For a time divisions between nationalists and unionists appeared to be forgotten.
The German invasion of Catholic Belgium outraged Irish Catholic opinion and anti-German sentiment was common among the population, fuelled by reports of German atrocities. As the war dragged on and casualties assumed horrific proportions enthusiasm waned.
Cork got a taste of the horrors of the war when The Lusitania was sunk off the Old Head of Kinsale on the 8th May 1915.
The treatment of the leaders of the 1916 Rising and the attempt to introduce conscription to Ireland in 1918 caused widespread outrage. Members of the Cork City Corps of the Irish Volunteers occupied Saint Francis Hall on Sheares Street during the 1916 Rising but no actual violence occurred in Cork, thanks partly to the efforts of Bishop Daniel Cohalan and Lord Mayor Thomas C. Butterfield.
The feeling that Britain would renege on the promise of Home Rule and the withdrawal of the Irish Parliamentary Party from Westminster were among the factors that led to the victory of Sinn Féin in the general election of 1918. The divisions between nationalists and unionists were to the fore again as Ireland slid seemingly inexorably towards the War of Independence.
During World War One over two thousand Cork men were killed, some eleven hundred of them from Cork City alone. Many of them lie buried with hundreds of thousands of other British soldiers in the cemeteries of northern France and Flanders.