Old Moore’s Almanac of 1914: Free Land in Canada, Tragic Shipwrecks and Women’s Rights

Old Moore’s Almanac of 1914: Free Land in Canada, Tragic Shipwrecks and Women’s Rights

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We take a look back at the 1914 edition of Old Moore’s Almanac – and what it shows us about life in Ireland at the time.

The 1914 edition of the Old Moore’s Almanac hit the printing presses 103 years ago. In the North, the ocean liner HMHS Britannic, sister to the RMS Titanic, was launched at the Harland and Wolff shipyards in Belfast. It was the largest Olympic-class ocean liner in the world. And, at the start of 1914, strange weather arrived. It was so cold in January that blizzards hit multiple times. The ponds in Phoenix Park froze solid, prompting people to ice skate on them!

Despite good times, later that year a declaration of war was made by the United Kingdom on the German Empire. Ireland was part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, and entered the war in August 1914. Even though Ireland was at war, domestic issues were still a hot topic. It was a time of social change and political skirmishes in Ireland – just two years before the Rising in 1916.

A very telling advertisement in the Old Moore’s Almanac of 1914 is that of “free land” in Canada. In 1914, many Irish settlers were enticed across the ocean by the promise of a new life and a free parcel of land that they were expected to farm. Northern Ontario was opened for settlement from the late 1800s to the 1930s. So this is where Irish people were most likely to be headed in 1914.

Immigrants who wanted a slice of the Canadian pie had to provide certain details such as their name, occupation, and after 1908, their intention to swear allegiance to the Crown. For the Irish who were escaping British rule in their homeland, this would have been an awkward pill to swallow.

The records generated by this process still exist today, and have been a source of very valuable information for people tracing their ancestry. When the Irish did arrive in Canada, instead of escaping World War I they were suckedback into it. Around 20,000 Irish soldiers fought in the Canadian army during World War I. Around 2000 Irish men died while fighting for their adopted country of Canada. An Irish regiment, the Royal Irish Lancers, gained fame when they were part of the liberation of Mons on Armistice Day in 1918.

In 1914 a man from Sligo called Jimmy Duffy won the 1914 Boston Marathon. He was resident in Canada at the time and took up arms for his adopted country. Just before he turned 25, he died at the Second Battle of Ypres in May 1915. The advertisement in the 1914 edition of the Old Moore’s Almanac is a perfect reflection of what was going on in Ireland at the time.

The predictions of 1914 were also a reflection of what was happening in Ireland in 1914. In February, before war was declared, the prediction for the month said: “The suffragettes – lost to all sense of decency – will become very turbulent and cause much trouble to the Government. Ere this they will have been tried at the bar of public opinion and condemned to eternal obloquy.” As it turned out, women have become equal (almost) to men in every way. It only took 103 years (and counting)! So perhaps the prediction that the feminism movement would be “condemned to eternal obloquy” – obloquy meaning strong public condemnation – was right. They may have been condemned but by 1914 the suffragette movement had indeed begun in Ireland.

In 1914, Mabel Small threw a brick through the window of the Ulster Unionist headquarters in Belfast. This was to get attention for the suffragette movement. It worked. She was jailed for two months, but the publicity she got for her act was country-wide. With Ireland being dragged into the war, the suffragette movement started to gain ground. Women took on jobs previously only done by men, changing the social landscape forever.

By 1922 women had won the right to vote in Ireland. There was still a long way to go for feminism in 1914. It wasn’t until the 1970s that women could keep their jobs in the public service or in a bank once they married, sit on a jury, buy contraceptives, drink in a pub without hassle, collect their Children’s Allowance (the father collected it prior to the 1970s), or own their home outright. They also could not refuse to have sex with their husbands. And of course they didn’t get paid the same as men.

103 years later, equality for men and women isn’t quite there yet, but we are close. Surely, 103 years would feel like eternal obloquy for the woman who threw a brick through a window all those years ago. If she could see us now, she’d be happy that she picked up that brick.

The predictions from March 1914 focus mainly on the domestic issues of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. And so they should, it was a turbulent time for domestic politics. But right at the end of the March predictions is an interesting nugget – that there would be some shipwrecks of note. 1914 was indeed a bad year for shipwrecks.

On this list, was a ship called The Empress of Ireland. This magnificent ship sank after being rammed by the Norwegian Storstad in May 1914. Of the 1,477 people on board, 1,012 died. The sinking of the Titanic took place two years before in 1912, and lost 1500 lives, and was all over the news globally. And yet, the sinking of the The Empress of Ireland didn’t stir up the same level of nostalgia or interest. This is perhaps because the impending First World War took up people’s attention. Or maybe they were disaster-ed out when it came to ship wrecks. It seems strange that the Titanic disaster is so heavily romanticised, but the Empress of Ireland sank without so much as a front page story.

Though the ship was named after Ireland, and ran a route between Liverpool and Canada, carrying many Irish people to their new lives, it wasn’t Irish-owned. It was a Canadian vessel. The number of deaths caused by its sinking was the largest of any peacetime Canadian maritime accident, even to this day. 103 years later, the wreck lies in 40 metres of water, making it accessible to most divers. Many artefacts from the wreckage have been retrieved, some of which are on display in the Empress of Ireland Pavilion at the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21. The Canadian government has passed legislation to protect the site.

So what happened when these two vessels crashed? While sailing, the Empress of Ireland and the Storstad did indeed see each other. However the two boats were soon enveloped in a thick fog, and didn’t catch site of each other again until it was too late. At 2:00am, the Storstad crashed into Empress’ starboard side. The Storstad remained afloat, but the Empress was severely damaged and began flooding. There was no time to shut the watertight doors.

Most of the passengers and crew in the lower decks drowned quickly; water entered through open portholes, some only a few feet above the water line, and inundated passageways and cabins. About 14 minutes after the collision, the stern rose briefly out of the water and the ship sank. Hundreds of people were thrown into the near-freezing water.

While the disaster didn’t get much attention, it did lead to a change in the design of ships’ bows, which is still being used to this day. Now, in 2017, we have left passenger shipping behind and get budget flights all over the world. It is cheap, easy and quick. Thank you, Old Moore’s Almanac of 1914, for reminding us how far we have come. Now, about that free land giveaway…

Pre-Order the 2018 Old Moore’s Almanac, available December 2017

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