About Fit as Fiddles

Those who work closely with historical documents can feel a sense of responsibility to the long-dead authors. We know something of the coincidences and mishaps that means one person’s written record has survived where so many haven’t. As archivists and curators our driving motivation, after our overarching duty of care toward the original artefacts in our care, is to see them being used, being published, being taught. We must assume that this is what the author’s wished for.

Fit as fiddles and hard as nails – the phrase comes from Stanley Cyril Beresford Mundey describing the effect on soldiers of a regime of hard work and scant food. Whatever was the original author’s meaning, to the modern ear this unsettling phrase chimes with what we now know to have been the experience of those individuals who lived beyond the trauma of the Great War; between those who were at a distance from the full horror and those who were forever irreparably damaged, there were those who apparently survived intact, who even had good memories of their experience, and yet who cannot but have been profoundly changed by it.

In these centenary years a national discourse has opened on the service of Irish people in the British Army and the recognition of the role played in the formation of modern Irish society of members of more than one historical tradition. It is with this in mind that the Library presents, as a major online project, the diaries and letters of some Irish men and women who served or observed during the years 1914-1918, from all the major theatres of war.