Seanad Éireann - Volume 157 - 12 November, 1998

First World War Anniversary: Statements.

Mr. Cassidy: For many families of Irish soldiers who fought and died in the Great War, this is a special time. Nine million soldiers died in that war and 20 million were maimed or wounded. Of the nine million who died, 50,000 were Irish soldiers. They were laid to rest in forgotten graves in foreign fields. Now, 80 years after what was called “the war to end all wars”, and what can only be described as one of the most barbaric episodes in European history, a new spirit of reconciliation and understanding prevails. This spirit of understanding is helping to heal some of the wounds of generations. At last the families of those who perished can pray openly together for a lasting peace.

It is only fitting that Ireland's Great War dead should be cherished alongside all patriots who struggled and suffered. We should remember the 50,000 Irish men who died in World War I with the same respect as those who struggled for Irish freedom. Those we commemorate in the House today and commemorated in Belgium yesterday suffered a double tragedy. They fell victims not only to a war against oppression in Europe but their memory fell victim to a war of independence at home. Those who died were remembered only by their families and friends, they were forgotten by a nation who had found other heroes.

Eighty years later we have managed to restore some dignity to the commemoration of a common sacrifice in whatever cause. It is right that we should remember the soldiers of the 36th Ulster Division and the 16th Irish Division from the

[99] Nationalist South who fought side by side for freedom, not for flags. The 250,000 Irish who fought in this terrible war came from every corner of Ireland. My granduncle, James Cassidy, was one of those who fought and was fortunate enough to survive and come back and live for many years in Castlepollard. Every parish in Ireland was touched by the consequences.

We must try to use this knowledge in the continuing search for lasting peace in Northern Ireland. We must keep alive the memories of those who fought in the Civil War and those who were victims of the Northern Ireland conflict who now yearn for peace. The lessons we must all take from Flanders is that of the futility of war and the waste of young lives. There must be a better way.

Mr. Manning: I thank the Leader for so readily agreeing to these statements.

Yesterday's ceremony at Messines was long overdue but, nonetheless, welcome. It brings to an end decades of neglect and at times a shameful conspiracy to write out of national history one part of our story. Yesterday the State acknowledged in powerful symbolism that this is a pluralist state, that to be Irish is not just to be Nationalist and to be a Nationalist is not just to be of the Sinn Féin tradition. For too long the official version of Irish history denied these essential facts.

Let us base what we say today on truth and face up to our past. In the 1920s the survivors of the war and their relatives held yearly ceremonies of remembrance. Remembrance for most of them was of people recently dead, of events recently over and these ceremonies were often tinged with the real rawness of recent loss. For the most part they held these ceremonies without interference, their grief and pride respected by their neighbours and by the Governments of the day.

In the 1930s that changed. In the then mood of intense nationalism more and more they found their parades were unwelcome, their manifestations greeted with hostility. There was intimidation, some overt, some silent, but the message was clear — Irish republicanism was an exclusive creed and these Irish people were not welcome. That continued to be the case for decades. Official Ireland did not want to know. Republican Ireland, or at least sections of it, saw them as an enemy, a symbol to be shunned, a remembrance of things best left unremembered. Let us recall that it is just over a decade since the Irish State was officially represented at a Remembrance Day ceremony at St. Patrick's Cathedral. What is happening now is welcome, but it is also a rebuke to years of neglect, indifference and hostility. Above all, it is a rebuke to an old intolerance, to an old and bitter version of nationalism, a version we hope is passed for good.

Above all today, let us remember those who died, fought and who came home to obscurity and often hardship just as their fellow soldiers did in all the other countries which were involved in [100] that war. Nothing about the Great War was good. It was brutal and barbaric. It was the breakdown of civilisation. It created and unleashed forces which led directly to the emergence of international fascism in the 1930s and the unfinished business of that war led almost directly to the Second World War, 21 years later.

I hope we have learned; I believe we have.

Today the former enemies of Europe are integrated in common cause. International understanding has never been greater, even if war is still an ever-present threat.

It is important for us, as parliamentarians, to remember that two Irish parliamentarians died in the Great War. They are commemorated today in the Parliament at Westminster. Captain Willie Redmond, the Nationalist MP for Clare, a decent self-effacing patriotic man, died at Flanders. That tortured genius, Tom Kettle, MP for Tyrone and professor of economics at my university, UCD, died at the Somme. Incidentally, the son of the third parliamentarian to die, Charles Lyall, a Scot, is well known to many people in these Houses as a founding member of the British-Irish Interparliamentary Body.

Tom Kettle wondered why he had volunteered to fight in the Great War. He asked himself whether his rightful place was there or with the men of 1916, many of whom were his friends. His last poem, written to his daughter just before his death at the Somme in 1916, gave his reasons. It was written in the brutality, the horror and the nightmare of the trenches. He wrote:

So here, while the mad guns curse overhead,

And tired men sigh with mud for couch and floor

Know that we fools, now with the foolish dead,

Died not for flag, not king, nor Emperor,

But for a dream, born in a herdsman's shed,

And for the Secret Scripture of the poor.

These same sentiments troubled another poet who found himself at war. Francis Ledgwidge ended his days questioning the why of it all. His lines, again written in the trenches shortly after the 1916 Rising, called to mind the death of his great friend, Thomas MacDonagh.

He shall not hear the bittern cry

In the wild sky, where he is lain,

Nor voices of the sweeter birds

Above the wailing of the rain.

But when the Dark Cow leaves the moor,

And pastures poor with greedy weeds,

Perhaps he'll hear her low at morn

Lifting her horn in pleasant meads.

[101] Here were two great ordinary talented Irishmen, both of whom found themselves answering the call in 1914, questioning why they were fighting in the Great War and each explaining in his own way. Today we, as a nation, are coming to a maturity. We can recognise that to pay tribute and give honour to the memory of those Irishmen who died in that war is not to threaten the place of those who sought our independence in a different way. All of them wanted a sovereign Irish state and an independent Irish parliament. In some ways they came by different routes but all had the same objective in mind. Above all, today is a day when we honour the memory of the dead without quibble, equivocation or any sort of reservation, we salute their memory and we hope this is the beginning of genuine reconciliation.

Mr. Dardis: Yesterday, 11 November, at 11 o'clock, we celebrated the 80th anniversary of the conclusion of hostilities in Europe and the end of the Great War. It is a matter of considerable regret that it has taken us 80 years to adequately commemorate and express our admiration for the 50,000 Irish men who fought and died in that war and for the 250,000 men who fought, many of whom came home.

It was appropriate that the President went to Flanders yesterday. One of the enduring memories we will always have is of her standing before the Irish peace memorial with the Queen of England and the King of the Belgians as an expression of our sovereignty, independence and maturity. That is an image I will remember for a long time. It was moving to watch it yesterday evening on our television screens.

It is appropriate that we recognise the sacrifice made by so many in that conflict. For too long an essential part of our history and our heritage has been virtually submerged. At times that was done deliberately, even to the extent of creating divisions which otherwise might have been resolved more easily, and the country has suffered as a result. It is a measure of our maturity, self-confidence and of the fact we see ourselves as an independent sovereign nation, equal in every respect to other European and world nations, that we could express our sorrow and regret, remember the fallen and give official recognition — there was widespread recognition but it was quiet and subdued — to those people who died and the unimaginable slaughter which took place in the Great War.

It is one of the less savoury aspects of our recent history that the survivors and families of the fallen were reduced to a silent and lonely commemoration and that so few were there to see something they must have dreamt about for many years. The President put it eloquently when she spoke about redeeming their memory with pride. That should be what yesterday was all about.

We express our delight that the President could stand side by side with Queen Elizabeth and the King of the Belgians in Flanders yesterday. We [102] should pay tribute to the contribution made by former Deputy, Paddy Harte and Mr. Glen Barr to the realisation of a dream. It underlines what politics can do and how constructive it can be to be part of the political process, even if one is not called to high office. There is a message for Members of this House in that respect.

I regret that the Irish band could not be at the Menin Gate yesterday for the ceremony where the fallen have been remembered, not for 80 years, as was reported in The Irish Times, but for 70 continuous years at sunset.

The President said yesterday that we have been in denial about what happened in the Great War. It is easy with hindsight for us to ascribe motives to the dead which may not have been their motives at all. We are not entitled to question the motives of people who went out, some in the belief that it would or would not lead to the unification of their country, or of people who fell in other places at other times with beliefs which were genuinely held, even if in some cases we believe those beliefs were mistaken.

One of the great things to emerge from this is the fact that the different strands which make up the Irish story should be recognised and should have their place in the sun. None of them should be submerged in a subconscious or conscious attempt to deny them. Had we recognised those legitimate strands in our identity and not tried to suppress them for an extended period, we would have been nearer to a resolution of the problems because the other side would have seen that they were held in respect. Respect and a consideration for the other person's point of view is central to reaching the type of resolution we have seen and which we hope will bring peace to this island. If those different strands had been duly recognised, that process would have been advanced. It was wrong to airbrush part of that from our history.

I come from a town, which was one of the major British garrisons in Ireland, where there was a large cavalry presence and where many people, including my family, were involved in providing remounts for soldiers in the First World War. It is only recently that we have come to recognise that as a central part of our history. I was at a moving occasion on Monday where a local person described their memories of their mother at the turn of the century, which had been put down on tape, and what it was like to live in a garrison town. Many men from Kildare fought and died in the Great War. Some 550 of them fell at Passchendaele alone, there was a huge sacrifice. There can hardly be a family in this country, of whatever political persuasion which cannot say they had a relative who fought and died in the Great War.

Senator Manning mentioned Francis Ledgwidge and Tom Kettle. I had also written down the reference from Tom Kettle which Senator Manning quoted about the secret scriptures of the poor. It is an eloquent testimony to those people and a fitting epitaph for the many who died.

[103] We have not been fair to the survivors and it is regrettable that so few of them survived to see this day. Yesterday, the central importance of as many of our citizens as possible visiting those areas became clear in the context of the young people who helped to construct the peace tower. One has only to stand in one of those cemeteries for a short period of time to understand what detestation of war should be.

When I visited Flanders, which is a quiet pastoral place, it was difficult to believe that so many millions of people died there. As a farmer, I kept thinking about the people who farmed that land and who had to leave in 1914. Their land was destroyed when they came back in 1918 and within one generation they had to leave again. Their entire livelihood and everything that was important to them was taken from under their feet. It is part of the European experience and the lesson we can learn that these people could put such death, destruction and hatred behind them in a common purpose to achieve a peaceful European dream, which has been largely achieved.

Ireland must also learn that some of the things we believe to be hugely important and which we regard as major national slights in the context of the European story are perhaps not as hugely significant as we believe them to be. If we viewed many of those things in the greater European context, not just in the context of the Great War but also of the Second World War, perhaps our outlook might be different.

My final point relates to how the two traditions become intertwined. Last night the story of the death of Willie Redmond was portrayed on television. A southern Nationalist, Mr. Redmond was lifted from the battlefield by a northern Protestant, carried to a field station where he was tended to by an Anglican minister in the absence of a Catholic chaplain and was cared for by people who, in another context, might have been regarded as enemies. There is an enduring message to be taken from that small story which emerged from a global catastrophe.

It is important and correct that the House recalls today the events of 80 years ago, acknowledges the sacrifice that was made and regards that sacrifice as a central part of the Irish story. When that sacrifice is fully accepted, we will be the better for it.

Mr. Ross: With the permission of the House, I propose to share time with Senator Henry.

Acting Chairman (Mr. R. Kiely): Is that agreed? Agreed.

Mr. Ross: I congratulate those who took the initiative to arrange for statements on this matter. It is more important than we realise that the House should unite in debating and making statements on issues of this sort in a serious way which will indicate to future generations that while we [104] may disagree about many things, we do not differ on issues of this sort, where life and death are at stake and where tribalism and bigotry are under discussion.

I was struck by the comments made by Senators Manning and Dardis. I perceive this issue partially but not completely in the same way they do. I agree with everything they stated about the historical significance of yesterday's meeting but, while we should not belittle the contribution of those who died in either world war, that meeting had far greater symbolism in terms of the future than of the past. The unveiling of the monument at Messines points the way forward rather than back because it draws on the great deeds of Irishmen, Englishmen and Scotsmen in the past. Having used the events of 80 years ago to bring together the President and the Queen of England, I hope we will soon see the sacrifices of the Second World War commemorated in the same way, perhaps at Normandy. I hope also it may prove the forerunner to our seeing these two individuals appear together at Enniskillen and Derry to commemorate Bloody Sunday and the Enniskillen bombing. I accept that such events are more difficult to foresee because the wounds are still tender, but I hope that is the context in which the meeting of the President and the Queen will be remembered.

I pay particular tribute to President McAleese because she comes from a strong Nationalist background and it was perhaps more difficult for her to appear so early in her term of office with the Queen of England to commemorate the Irish dead who fought side by side with their British counterparts. This is something on which we should congratulate her because that is the nature of leadership. Whether we like it or not, she is sending out a signal to the entire Irish nation that, for her, the meeting represents the end of hostilities in the current phase of the conflict. We hope that conflict is finally over.

We acknowledge the difficulties the President may have experienced and we pay tribute to her courage and leadership in carrying out what could not have been an easy task. As Senator Manning stated yesterday, the sacrifice of Irish troops in the First World War has been airbrushed out of history for political reasons. We need people from the other side to lead us and to show us the way forward. We, in turn, must show political courage and abandon the prejudices of the past.

It is a pleasure for me to speak on this issue. My father served in the British Army in the Irish Guards. To some extent, people who served in Irish regiments in the British Army believed that was in some way incompatible with being Irish. I do not share that view but it is something which people in Ireland were made to believe. Until recently — within the past ten years — it was unsafe for men from the Republic of Ireland to return home if they were serving in the British Army and their commanding officers advised them not to do so until the conflict in Northern Ireland came to an end. It was unhealthy and [105] unsavoury that Irishmen could not return home because of their beliefs or career choices. As a result of yesterday's events, I hope that will no longer be the case. The House should pay particular tribute to President McAleese for what she has done.

Dr. Henry: I thank Senator Ross for sharing time. I also believe particular tribute should be paid to President McAleese. Yesterday's ceremony was all the more poignant because of what she suffered during the past 30 years in Northern Ireland. We owe an enormous debt of gratitude to Paddy Harte and Glen Barr and to those who conceived of the idea of using a Christian symbol in memorial park which predates any of the divisions that mark our history. Symbols are important Someone stated yesterday that the symbolism of the First World War had been taken over by one community on this island. If that is the case, that community did not encounter great difficulty in doing so. It would be good for everyone if we reclaimed the symbols which belong to us.

The names of the war dead are also important. One of the most striking aspects of lists of the war dead revolves around the repetition of names. I do not know whether Members have looked at the memorials at Connolly and Heuston Stations dedicated to those who worked on the railways and who died in the Great War. If they have, they will have noticed the recurrence of surnames of men — Murphy, McDonald, etc. who obviously came from the same families. On seeing those memorials one can only contemplate the futility of war and the suffering which must have been inflicted on the families of those men. It was stated on one television programme that three McDonald brothers from Bride Street died in the First World War. When one recalls that the average age of those who died in that conflict was 19 — in the Second World War it was 26 — one can only presume that the men who went to war in 1914 must have been extremely idealistic.

I am glad the people in Bandon erected a war memorial. The repetition of surnames on that monument is similar to that which occurs on memorials in French villages where brothers and cousins died in a short space of time in a small area. When one sees the reflections of the living reflected against the names of the dead at the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, one realises the names of those who died are important. I would be glad if more cities, towns and villages could follow Bandon's lead.

My family's experience of the First World War was fortunate. My father had three brothers who served in the war. All were under 19 when they enlisted; one of them was 15. I once asked that uncle if anyone objected when he turned up to enlist, because they were supposed to be at least 19, and he replied: “A fine young Sligo fellah and with a horse, do you think the cavalry would refuse that?”. There must have been many more people [106] like him. At the same time one of his cousins was fighting in the College of Surgeons along side Countess Markiewicz. There are interesting parallels within all of our families.

I commend all those who developed the concept of the peace park in Flanders, particularly Paddy Harte and Glen Barr who did a great service for all of us. I wish Gordon Wilson, who was propelled into our midst by the tragic event in Enniskillen on Armistice Day in 1987, had been here to see this occasion.

Labhrás Ó Murchú: I join with the sentiments expressed today. I have always believed it is a noble gesture to remember those who died in any conflict and particularly to remember them and their families in our prayers. We should do this with a sense of dignity and that dignity was exemplified by the deportment and independence of the President in Flanders yesterday.

As someone who has an English mother, I grew to appreciate and respect her tradition and came to know the better points of the British character. This took place against a background of misdeeds perpetrated by the British Administration in Ireland. Anyone committed to reconciliation is involved in a positive exercise. My father, however, played an exceptionally active part in the War of Independence and I always appreciated his role in fighting British imperialism and coercion in our country.

In recent times, with regard to the Flanders commemoration and associated developments, I have been disturbed that some commentators are reading a broader political significance into it than it warrants. By so doing we create further confusion and possibly even acrimony. It would be wrong to use such an important occasion in our own and world history — a sign of our maturity and of a world fraternity — as an instrument of revisionism. I agree fully with Senator Dardis. We do not have the right to question the motives of any individual unless that individual has expressed his or her motives to us. Some of the poetic contributions which have been read out today demonstrate that there were motives which were ignored.

We must also be fair to our own tradition to ensure a balance upon which we can build a more positive approach to our neighbour, Britain, in the future. We have to accept that during the Great War, which we might see in different ways but which we all agree was a most brutal episode in world history, the British Administration was executing our Nationalist leaders. It endeavoured to put down the aspirations to independence of a small nation during that war. I am not saying that to detract in any way from the motives of what is happening now. I genuinely believe it is part of a bigger picture related to the British-Irish Agreement. It is not possible to achieve a solution to the historical problems in Ireland, which have caused so much tragedy for so long, without an exceptionally broad landscape. Each and every one of us has something to contribute to that [107] landscape. Nothing would please me more than to hear the British Prime Minister, Tony Blair — for whom I have a great admiration because of his role in the Agreement — apologise when he addresses the Houses of the Oireachtas in the same way the British Administration has apologised in so many other countries, not for the sake of achieving something in a grovelling manner but to put another piece of that landscape together which is necessary to build co-operation and understanding.

Millions of Irish people have gone to Britain and intermarried. I have had the opportunity to meet many of these people down the years and it is evident they have become integrated into British society. At the same time they have a love for their homeland. One might say these are conflicting emotions. Of course they are, but in the same way that there are conflicting emotions in Irish history generally. There is also strong leadership and it is possible to reconcile those emotions. If we do not, we will do an injustice to those millions of people of Irish extraction living in Britain. In many ways they are our focus to bring about a final solution.

I join with other Senators in extending sympathy to all those who suffered in the Great War. Many of their families in Cashel are involved with me in cultural activities. They are no less Irish than any other Irish person I have known and I have no doubt their parents or grandparents were not any less Irish than anyone else. I genuinely believe, however — I say this with no sense of acrimony — to move forward to the next stage of the final solution of the relationship between this island and Britain, we must do so with a sense of integrity. Tá súil agam go ndéanfaidh gach éinne iarracht pearsanta chun sin a bhaint amach.

Mr. Connor: I was one of the people who attended the ceremony at Messines Ridge yesterday and earlier ceremonies at Ypres, a town so accursed by the war in Belgium. I pay the greatest possible tribute to a former Member of these Houses and a good friend, Paddy Harte, and to Glen Barr for the initiative which brought about what we saw unveiled at Flanders fields yesterday — a magnificent round tower built with stone from a building in Ireland, and containing a stone from each of the 32 counties of Ireland. It is higher than any of the ancient round towers in this country and because of the stone with which it was built it has an aged and weathered appearance. It is a magnificent feature on the landscape. It is an enormous achievement and a fitting tribute to those unfortunate Irishmen who died in that most terrible of conflicts, the Great War.

We often forget that the young men who went to Flanders, the Somme and all the other awful places in that war were encouraged to do so by their political leaders in Ireland. There was great resistance to conscription in Ireland at that time, but the political leaders of the Irish Parliamentary Party encouraged young men to go and fight in [108] what it saw as a war against the naked aggression of Germany, although historians now might not agree. Others fought for the ideal of freedom for small nations. My grandmother told me she remembered priests in the pulpit telling young men to go to war to fight for “Catholic Belgium”. Many thousands answered that call and many thousands died.

I join in the tributes to President McAleese. I was in the town hall in Messines last night when she made her inspiring speech. She spoke about how official Ireland forgot about these unfortunate people and how this added to the grief of those who lost sons, as is the nature of war, in that terrible conflict. On Tuesday I listened to Commissioner Flynn make a fine speech to an assembled gathering in the Cloth Hall in Ypres. He referred to how we had forgotten these brave and gallant young men and apologised for how official Ireland did that. I complimented him on his speech and said I was delighted to hear him say something he could not have said ten years ago when he was part of Irish public life. That is how far we have progressed in the intervening years. As Seán Lemass said over 30 years ago in the other House, there can be no questioning the nobility or the motive of the people who went to fight in that war.

Like Senator Dardis, I am a farmer and I have been in Flanders fields, after an awful political experience in 1997 when I lost my Dáil seat. However, when I won my Seanad seat I treated myself to a holiday based in Ypres and I toured the battlefields on a bicycle. As someone who knows and loves the land, I looked at the peaceful fields there today and thought back to what happened there 80 years ago. Somebody described it as a woeful moonscape of woeful hollow woe. From Tyne Cot cemetery one looks out on the main battlefield of that awful place, Passchendaele, which was well named. Hundreds of thousands were shot or died from injuries from artillery shells or shrapnel and thousands drowned in the mud.

That battle was ordered by General Haig in July. By Christmas the British Army had advanced a couple of kilometres and General Haig called off the battle because of the futility of it. The German forces then quietly reoccupied the land which had been taken from them. A few months afterwards a senior officer from the British high command looked at the field of Passchendaele, broke into tears and asked why they had sent men to fight in that awful place. Many of the men who died there were Irish.

Mr. Dardis: I wish to make a suggestion. We are due to adjourn between 1.30 p.m. and 2 p.m. There are only one or two other Members left to speak. Perhaps we can extend the allocated time beyond 1.30 p.m. to allow Senator Jackman make her contribution.

Acting Chairman: Is that agreed? Agreed.

[109] Mr. Connor: I was proud to see the President gracefully walk between the British and Belgian monarchs yesterday. I was also delighted that so many local authorities were represented. The chairperson of practically every county council was there, along with other members of the local authorities. They were by far the most numerous public representatives there. They answered the call made by the Journey of Reconciliation Trust, chaired jointly by the former Deputy, Paddy Harte, and Glen Barr, that as many public figures as possible should be there for the ceremony.

I congratulate those who brought about yesterday's events. It demonstrated what politicians, even those who are out of office, can achieve when they are constructive and extend their hands across borders in common friendship. It was a privilege for me to attend the ceremony which moved me a great deal.

Mr. Mooney: We were all pleased to listen to Senator Connor's report of his attendance at the ceremony at Ypres. I regret I was unable to be there and I hope to travel the route taken by Senator Connor by bicycle. However, in researching this contribution, it was salutary to learn that since 1945, 620 people have been killed from walking on unexploded shells in that area. About 600 unexploded shells are ploughed up every year. A special Belgian army unit is employed full-time to ensure they are destroyed. In a way, the legacy is still with us.

This is a welcome debate. We have finally emerged from the shadows of history and have rapidly matured as a nation in the past 12 months. Like many of my colleagues, I grew up in a small town in Catholic Nationalist Ireland, in a Border county where Nationalist republican activity and the tradition of physical force which brought this State into existence was the dominant feature of our young lives. It was the history we learned and anything I knew about the First World War came from veterans of the war who lived in my town. Many of them were members of the Connaught Rangers, including Tom Friar and Willie Reilly. Tom Friar — an elderly man when I knew him as a small child — lost his two brothers. One of them was killed beside him as he went over the top in the first Battle of the Somme on 1 July in 1916. His second brother, who was awarded the Mons Star and was a corporal in the Connaught Rangers, was ironically killed in the second Battle of the Somme.

Tom, like many of the veterans of that period, rarely spoke in any great detail about the horrific dimensions of war. It is a matter of some regret to me now, many years later, that I did not have a tape recorder beside me to record the detail of how he got involved and the mood of Ireland at the time. It is perhaps a sad reflection on all of us that we have so many fragments of information from that period but we do not have the complete picture. At least part of the picture has been reclaimed.

[110] I said yesterday in the House that I felt Nationalist Ireland was reclaiming its birthright in this regard. I do not believe my remarks were misinterpreted. I would not wish them to be interpreted as being disrespectful to northern Unionist members of the 31st Ulster Division who fought alongside the 16th Irish Division, particularly in the closing years of the war. However, I sometimes felt terribly frustrated that Ulster unionism claimed almost exclusive right to this sacred memory, that the only contribution made in the Great War came from the Unionist side of the family on this island and that it stemmed from motives which were somehow higher than the motives of those who took up physical arms against the British Empire to forge a new republic.

I know that is all in the past now, but those who ignore the past are condemned to repeat its mistakes. It is salutary to put in context the conditions of the time. It is important for an entirely new generation of Irish people to be reminded of the heroic sacrifice of those who went to war in 1914. It is time this Republic acknowledged the heroic sacrifices of our fellow Irishmen in World War I. That acknowledgement was articulated in moving fashion yesterday by President McAleese.

It is estimated that approximately 116,900 Irishmen fought in the war, 65,000 of whom were Catholic and 53,000 Protestant. Approximately 60,000 lost their lives. The largest number died on the Gallipoli campaign in 1915 and in the first Battle of the Somme during the summer of 1916. One of the most famous regiments was the 16th Irish Division which fought with the 36th Ulster Division in the closing stages of the war. The exploits of the 36th Ulster Division continue to be remembered, mainly in Unionist circles. However the brave and dutiful men of the 16th Irish Division are not often remembered because the Ireland from which they joined to fight for the freedom of small nations had undergone a sea-change in Nationalist aspirations by 1918.

It is salutary to remember that royal ascent to the Home Rule Bill was given on 18 September 1914, four weeks after the declaration of war on 4 August. It is obvious that John Redmond of the Irish Parliamentary Party which represented the mainstream of constitutional nationalism in Ireland at that time, encouraged Irish Nationalists to join the war. This was mainly to ensure home rule would be protected, the main political agenda of the time. Perhaps it is difficult to be mindful of that 80 years later. It was a major political development at that time and would rank alongside the recent peace agreement. Those who fought done so for the highest of motives.

There are many families in Ireland with memorabilia such as old medals, ribbons, documents and letters relating to World War I tucked away in cigarette tins. They are often hidden. I discovered this when I attended the Dublin Fusiliers Association exhibition 18 months ago in the Dublin Civic Museum. Incidentally, I exhort school children in particular to visit the exhibition which [111] is currently taking place there. It is part of our history. I met people from County Leitrim there who had kept quiet about their families' involvement because it was not politically prudent to do otherwise. All that should now come into the public arena. A number of research and heritage centres would welcome memorabilia from World War I. I strongly encourage those who have family memorabilia, such as letters and medals, that relate to the World War I and the Irish contribution to it, to bring them to those centres and into the public domain. It is time we all came out of the shadows of history in this regard.

Those who wish to further their interests in members of their families or communities who were involved in World War I may be pleased to know that in recent days a database for the Commonwealth Graves Commission went on the Internet. One can now access a database which will identify the Irish soldiers killed and where they are currently buried with directional maps. The public records office in Kew, South London, has a huge database of information on Irish soldiers and their involvement in the 1914-18 war. I know there is a renewed interest in that period, particularly as a result of events in recent days. It is important that people know where to look for information on family members and people from their communities who served in the war.

It is difficult to believe the youngest living veteran is 95 years old. We are now seeing the last generation who fought in that period. It is estimated that there are 4,500 World War I veterans still alive. Those figures may not be absolutely correct, but it is likely there would be that many across the world. It is a small number set against the figures I quoted for the Irish contribution in the 1914-18 war. In total 10 million people were killed in that war.

Those who have no real comprehension of the horrors of the 1914-18 war and trench warfare should go to see a movie currently showing, called Saving Private Ryan. The opening 30 minutes of that movie relate to the Normandy landing of American forces on Omaha Beach in 1944. Veterans of that period generally agree it is the most accurate description of the scene. That action took place over a period of two days. Senators should try and imagine what it was like from 1914 to 1918 when a similar situation continued for four years. This gives us a small insight into what soldiers had to suffer during that period.

I, too, pay my deepest respects to all Irish men, North and South, who fought for the freedom of small nations, the noblest of motives, and who believed sincerely their actions would contribute to the freedom of this country. I would like to think they are now at rest. They are no longer restless souls. Their families can get some small solace from what we do in this House in a humble modest way and from what our President did yesterday. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a n-anam.

[112] Mr. Costello: I would like to be associated with all the statements that have been made. I am glad to have this opportunity of saluting and commemorating the memory of those fine Irishmen who fought in World War I, the most horrific, awful and brutal war. One fifth of the 250,000 people who fought in that war died. That is an indication of how much they were at the centre of the fighting.

It was a memorable and historic occasion to see our President, the Queen of England and the King of Belgium honouring the Irish dead in unity at Messines yesterday. I applaud and congratulate the organisers, including Paddy Harte who was a member of the Oireachtas for so long and Glen Barr from Northern Ireland. They came together with a small idea that bloomed into one of enormous historical importance for the entire island. Its reverberations extend well beyond this island. It was a remarkable occasion and its influence will continue to have an impact for many decades.

The question of those who fought and their motives has been at the heart of this. They are the forgotten soldiers, and their families are the forgotten families of Irish history. We must remember that the beginning of the century was a brave new age, an age of idealism. It would be very wrong to impugn the motives of anyone who fought in the 1914-1918 war. By and large, these people were Nationalists and, ironically, very often subsequently Nationalists impugned their memory. John Redmond, the leader of the parliamentary party and the Irish Volunteers, had sought Home Rule and they saw participation in this war as a means to obtaining that. They did not fight for the extension of the empire, they fought so that Home Rule would be established in Ireland. The famous speech by John Redmond at Woodenbridge for Irish Volunteers and Irish Nationalists to go where the firing line extends was made with the best of intentions.

Francis Ledgwidge and Thomas Kettle were poets and idealists who fought for the freedom of small nations. Others felt that the freedom of this small nation came first. That was the difference which caused the split. A similar division took place following the Civil War in 1924 between the Nationalists and volunteers. James Connolly had emblazoned in Liberty Hall: “We shall not fight for king or kaiser, but for Ireland.” That was an equally valid idealistic principle and objective. It must be remembered that people were not fighting for king, kaiser or the empire; they fought because their interpretation of their place and the context in history was that this was the way to protect democracy, to protect small nations and to do their bit for Home Rule or for Ireland itself. We must remember that history passed them by. While they were fighting in the trenches, the 1916 Rising occurred. By the time they returned in 1918 attitudes had become inflamed. Subsequently they were forgotten, and despised in many cases, because it was perceived that they had sacrificed themselves in the wrong arena and [113] a new nationalism had taken over. To understand this it must be seen in all its context and comprehensiveness. It is important we recognise that these people who were part and parcel of Irish history and sacrificed so much have been forgotten for far too long.

This ceremony was an attempt to do justice to those to whom justice was not done in the past by our country, historians or politicians. It is a model and a symbol for the future that peace and reconciliation can come about in the context of all this island by reflecting on the unity on the battlefield and the subsequent divisions. We can now look back at this shared experience and look forward with the new peace agreement in Northern Ireland. It will give an impetus to the British-Irish Agreement and to attempts to bring the Unionist and Nationalist traditions together in a new shared experience and a new working relationship.

I believe that in the future the history books will be rewritten and revised. This needs to be done in order to honour the memory of these people but, more importantly, to honour their memory for their families. Those who died paid the ultimate sacrifice but for decades their families have lived with a shadow and question mark over their motivations and intentions. For this reason it is important that every side in this House puts on record their salutations, commemoration and remembrances of those brave men who went out between 1914 and 1918 and fought honestly and with integrity for the freedom of small nations in what was probably the most brutal of war experiences.

Mrs. Jackman: I feel strongly that I should contribute to this debate having been at the opening of the Irish Peace Park yesterday. This was a joint venture of former Deputy Harte and Glen Barr. Former Deputy Harte said that this event was his mission in life. It put in context his reason for discussing this venture at parliamentary meetings in the past when more pragmatic issues were being discussed. He kept hammering home the importance of this venture. His quotation in relation to the commemoration is: “You have forgotten us too long”. Glen Barr said it is a fitting monument to the young men who died. I will try to put it in context by quoting President McAleese's foreword which reads:

The Island of Ireland Peace Park not alone commemorates all those from the island of Ireland who fought and died in the First World War, it also seeks to use their tremendous sacrifice as the basis on which to forge a deeper understanding and respect between traditions on the island of Ireland.

Yesterday it was extraordinary to witness so many members of local authorities — I was representing Limerick County Council — and the representatives from urban and district councils in Northern Ireland coming together for this event. I told David Trimble that I was glad to see [114] him there. He quickly said in a pleasant manner: “Yes, but it took you a long time to be here. As southern politicians you are here today.” I replied: “We are here.” It was one of those extraordinary moments. Apart from being at the Peace Park, what hit me most was going to the museum in Messines and looking at the memorabilia. I remember a letter to the parents of a Private Daly from the King and Queen of England at the time stating that he was dead. There was a lot of treasured memorabilia in that museum. I read poems by war poets Francis Ledgwidge and Wilfred Owen giving horrific descriptions and outpourings of hope that this would be the last war. The most harrowing experience for everyone who visited the museum was realising that there had been a Second World War. It is shocking that people did not learn from that extraordinary four year war of torment. Subsequently there was the Vietnam war and there are many more wars around the world at present. It was extraordinary walking through that tiny village and seeing every house with a green, white and gold flag, a Union Jack and in between them the Belgian flag.

Communities from villages with little relevance to my area of Cappawhite, County Tipperary, were cheering. They were joyful on a day of reconciliation. Little children gave flowers to President McAleese who was very dignified. One would know by looking at her expression that it was one of the most important days of her life. She was followed by Queen Elizabeth, King Albert and Queen Paula. The enmeshing of the three countries whose representatives were there in solidarity to commemorate both the Catholic and Protestant Irish dead was extraordinary. To rub shoulders with all who were there was to commemorate the contribution of the Irish. Some of my husband's family fought in the First World War.

There were old men on the coach. I saw veterans aged 89, 91 and 92 years decked out in all their regalia who had made the journey assisted by their nephews and nieces. It must have been the most painful journey of their lives but they made it and were able to mingle with us and explain their medals. It would have been their last journey out of Ireland because they had little time left; a person in their 90s is not going to live much longer. Nonetheless, they stood erect and proud. It was wonderful they had the opportunity to return, knowing they were not alone.

My last image was extraordinary; the sun was setting and poplars which had lost their leaves and an extraordinary round tower in the Flanders fields were etched against that sky. It was an extraordinarily peaceful atmosphere to which we were invited to return to think, reflect and be at peace and at ease. People on holiday will feel compelled to visit the Peace Park at Messines to pray for the souls of those who gave unselfishly, among them 14 year old youngsters who lied about their age. Names were given and experiences and recollections exchanged between the [115] veterans and ourselves. It was extraordinary to drive from that village knowing this was a modest step which will go a long way to bringing the peace process to fruition. I am glad a little lump of County Limerick limestone, which was part of St. Mary's Hospital in Mullingar which contained the old workhouse which housed many Famine victims, is the mainstay of the round tower.

Mr. Walsh: The First World War is often euphemistically referred to as the Great War but it was anything but that. It was an appalling carnage of a generation and an appalling loss of young lives across Europe. It is only right and fitting that we recognise that many of our young people of that generation went to the Continent to fight the war as part of the British Army. At the time, they went with many different ideas as to what they wished to achieve. The war was referred to by Senator Cassidy earlier as the war to end all wars and the war to free small nations. As people from a small nation pursuing its own independence at the time, it was obviously in the minds of many who went to fight that this would be their input.

Some speakers referred to yesterday's events as a rebuke to old intolerance and surmounting years of neglect. While it is regrettable it was not commemorated before now, it is also understandable. The history of the country and of the relationship between it and England has been one of regret, especially when there was a significant Nationalist campaign for independence and some took a different route to those who went to the fields of Flanders to pursue Irish freedom. In many ways, we are not as good as we might be in commemorating various historical events. This is one prime example but there are others.

The 75th anniversary of 1916 was appallingly commemorated in this part of the island. This was probably because the historical situation and the struggle at the time inhibited people. It is a sign of our growing maturity as a sovereign and independent nation that these events can be put in perspective and that we can honour those who played their part in making a better world. For that, we owe them a great debt of gratitude and it is appropriate we honour them.

My knowledge of the First World War came from a neighbour who had one leg. For a child, this was interesting because not many people in the town had lost a limb. He lost it in the First World War and was one of many who suffered for life as a consequence of his participation. His name was Packie Finn and he lived in William Street in New Ross. His family are gone from the area now but he was an example of many who left the island, some never to return and those who did bore an indelible mark for the future.

In July I was invited to visit the fields of Flanders by a group from the North, mostly of the Unionist persuasion although there were some Nationalist councillors. The fact I went with them was surprising from their perspective. We visited [116] Major Willie Redmond's grave at Loker where he had fallen during the war; it is near the Messines ridge. His grave is outside the British war graveyard. I was asked to place a poppy wreath on it which was a challenge as it is something I would not have seen myself doing previously. Equally, the other members of the group were challenged by the fact that this was someone who fought in the British Army as a major and whose family subsequently removed his body because they did not want it interred in the British graveyard. They felt discomfort with it being there. That is an indication of the complexity of the thinking at the time and of the aspirations of various people who fought in the war. Willie Redmond was an MP for Wexford and for Clare and he and his family were very involved politically in the pursuit of Home Rule for Ireland. Had we achieved Home Rule, our independence might never have reached the extent it has.

All that is happening now is a clear indication of the change of opinion on this island. At that event in July, a wreath was laid at the memorial for the 16th Irish Division by Councillor Francis Casement who wore his sash as a member of the Ancient Order of Hibernians. A wreath was carried by Councillor Albert Comber who wore his Orange sash because he is a member of the Orange Order and I read the exhortation. It was interesting that the Unionists present felt that we were breaking new ground and making history. I said on that occasion, and I will say it again here, that we should look at the example given by the Protestants and Catholics, the orange and the green, who fought side by side in the trenches in the most appalling conditions and set aside their political differences. If we can now do the same future generations will acknowledge that we too have played our part by bonding the various cultures and traditions on this island.

The step taken yesterday by Glen Barr, Mr. Paddy Harte and our President is an example of how both our cultures and traditions are learning to set aside their differences and an acknowledgement that we have far more things that bond us together than divide us. The President has also been acknowledged as representing us extraordinarily well yesterday, as she has done so on all her trips abroad.

Mr. Dardis: The Cathaoirleach will agree that it has been well worth extending the time on the basis of the contributions we have heard.

Sitting suspended at 1.50 p.m. and resumed at 2 p.m.