War work on the home front
The Central Sphagnum Depot for Ireland at the Royal College of Science for Ireland, 1915–19
in Medicine, health and Irish experiences of conflict 1914–45
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Immediately after war was declared with Germany, emergency classes in first aid and ambulance work were organised in the Royal College of Science for Ireland (RCScI) in Dublin. By 1915 the College had two Voluntary Aid Detachments Red Cross groups who met hospital ships from the Western Front bringing casualties to Dublin hospitals. They were also provided aid to casualties of the Easter Rising. The women’s VAD also organised and managed the Central Sphagnum Depot for Ireland. Sphagnum moss had been found to have medicinal and absorbent properties and was known as a safe, reliable surgical dressing, making it a perfect replacement for increasingly scarce cotton wool in hospitals and dressing-stations during the First World War. As war casualties mounted, demands for this moss as a field-dressing increased. Between 1915 and 1919, over 900,000 dressings were dispatched to various theatres of war. This chapter assesses the work of the women who voluntarily involved themselves with the central depot by organising moss collection, sterilisation, packaging and dispatching. It also pits this Irish contribution to the war effort against Ireland’s increasingly turbulent political backdrop.

Editors: David Durnin and Ian Miller


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