Time for the Republic to remember

There are no McDevitt’s on Menin Gate (Belgium) but there are thousands of other Irish names amongst the 58,000 for whom there is no grave. The Irish Peace tower stands on a hill over the final battleground where the 16th and 36th divisions pushed the German lines back in June 1917. There are some wonderful inscriptions as you walk in. They say different things but have a single message best summed up in the words of Tom Kettle:

To dice with death, and, oh! They’ll give you rhyme
And reason; one will call the thing sublime,
And one decry it in a knowing tone.
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, nor King, nor Emporor,
But for a dream born in a herdsman’s shed,
And for the Secret Scripture of the poor.
The drive from Flanders (Belgium) to the Somme (France) takes you along the western front’s most famous sites. Arriving in the Somme valley, seeing the 74,000 names at Thiepval and acknowledging the epic achievements of the 36th Ulster Division, remembered at the Ulster Tower is thought provoking and utterly sobering. The blood sacrifice of the huge international army is everywhere.
Irishmen are everywhere. In the 16th Irish Division the fallen from ‘nationalist’ Ireland lie side by side with comrades from the UK, India, South Africa, Morocco, France, Belgium, Canada and many more. Many of the states have since decided to erect their own memorials to the soldiers of the Great War. The finest is undoubtedly in Vimy where Canada built the most wonderful monument to its war dead. I first arrived there from the living memorial that is the National South African monument at Devilles Wood. A wonderful circular building it makes no bones about South Africa’s own difficult history since the first world war. It’s a monument to everyone who went to war for the African state. From the Afrikaners in the Somme trenches to the ANC activists who fought for democracy, the building quite literally squares the circle and allows the modern republic to remember without undermining itself in any way.

The South African shrine stands in stark contrast to the only monument to the 16th Irish Division in the Somme. Nestled in the church grounds in Guilemont is a celtic cross. Do cum gloire Dé agus onora na hEireann (for the glory of god and the honour of Ireland) is the epitaph to the thousands who fell between the 3rd and 9th of September 1916 on the green fields of France. It is dwarfed the Ulster tower built within two years of the establishment of Northern Ireland and opened by the embodiment of the new jurisdiction, Edward Carson. The North was quick to remember, it seems the ‘Free State’ was in a hurry to forget.

The flags of so many nations still fly today in France and Belgium. Some are still in the commonwealth although many are not. The empire is gone, Europe is at peace and still the flag that is missing is that of Ireland. Nowhere is the Republic of Ireland remembering its dead as a sovereign and independent state. The peace tower at Messine is wonderful and a fitting tribute to the first battle in which the two traditions fought side by side but it is ultimately a monument to peace and reconciliation on the island of Ireland.

It is surely time the Republic of Ireland, free, confident and proud take its place amongst the modern states to honour its sons who went to war and made the ultimate sacrifice.

  • Jer

    Conall, a chara

    I have been to Ypres or Ieper as it is Flemish. The site of one of the most relentless butchery of Irish men ever to happen.

    I am from the south of Ireland. I remember those men with honour and pity, especally those men who came like i do from rural Ireland. Men who died like animals in a filthy trench.

    I dont buy the “glory of war” nonsense some might advise us to believe. I am disgusted by the foreign power that recruited Irish men into a slaughter machine.

    I took the time to go to Ieper and see where so many men from my area were slaughtered in mud.

    A confident and proud country would remember them with pride and could frankly express its digust that so many Irish made the ultimate sacrifice to secure the geo-political predominance of London.

    As south Ireland cannot do the latter it is doomed not to do the former.

  • jer

    by the way Ieper is where John Condon fell. The youngest soldier (14 years) on the allied side his body lay undiscovered for 10 years.

    As I said – we should remember them with pride and love but we should feel digust at the thugs who created this murder factory for Irish men.

  • confused.com

    “As I said – we should remember them with pride and love but we should feel digust at the thugs who created this murder factory for Irish men. ”

    Are you talking about the germans when you talk of “murder factory” ????????

    AFAIK there was no conscription in ireland, did these men not volunteer ?

    but still, yes a tragic episode in british history

  • Panic, These Ones Likes It Up Them.

    How is it that even in Britain where there is very good respect for what has happened in the past and the foolishness and wastefullness of war this does not deter the present day politicians from engaging in other wars.

    Who said that if we do not learn the lessons of history then we are doomed to repeat them.

    These politicians apparently learn the lessons of history but repeat them never the less.

    When you see what happened to the generation of young men that was destroyed in the first world war you would think that it would be extremely difficult to draw Britain into a war but this is patently not the reality.

  • Drumlins Rock

    ” When you see what happened to the generation of young men that was destroyed in the first world war you would think that it would be extremely difficult to draw Britain into a war but this is patently not the reality. ”

    It was extrememly difficult to draw Britain into another war, Chamberlain had to be dragged into the next one, and almost left it too late, yes the Somme was a mindless slaughter and WW1 is not “celebrated” but is comemerated, the Irish certaily cant preach pacifcism with there “Warriors of Destiny” and “Soliders are We”.

  • jer

    confused,

    The germans should be remembered as well by the way.

    A system that took people from all across Ireland and shipped them over to france and belgium to jump at a whistle’s command onto a muddy field where they would die about 60 seconds later torn to pieces by bullets or shrapenel and just lie there rotting in the mud would surely be well termed a murder machine.

    Conscription of course would have been introduced except for the resistance of the southern Irish to that perverse idea.

    Your point I suspect is based on the belief that as they were volunteers then their’s was a free choice. The truth of that position would depend on what drove them to enlist – a love of the UK, belief in redmond, or socio-economic reality which forced them to take the only job they could and the offer of something different. to their lives. Essentially forced by socio-economic reality.
    Either way the butchering of 50k irishmen is a murder machine to me.

  • Rory Carr

    “AFAIK there was no conscription in ireland, did these men not volunteer ?” – Confused.com

    But there was economic conscription as in the case of my grandfather, an out-of-work labourer with a wife and three young children who joined in an act of desperation only in order to feed and clothe his family and who died on 26 August 1914, not in a muddy trench, but defending a railway bridge on the River Marne.

    He died in the service of neither King nor Country but only as provider to his loved ones, so observing “the Sacred Scripture of the poor”.

  • Peadar Tóibín

    Conall,

    I lost a grand uncle in WW1. He was a solider in the Dublin Fusiliers. I believe that is right that we remember him and all the people that died in that war.

    However I do not believe that we should honour them. They signed up for what ever reason to an imperial army which had murdered and oppressed innocent civilians all over the world. The same army had enforced the writ of England in Ireland against the will of the Irish people for generations. There is no honour in this.

    The war was a imperial war between family members. It was not a war of good versus evil that WW2 could be seen as. These men were simply cannon fodder in a imperial struggle. There is no honour in this. There is sadness in this not honour.

    Some of the men signed up simply to fight, for the adventure of war, to kill people. There is no honour in this. Others that Home Rule would be implemented. They were duped. There is sadness in this but no honour.

    I understand the poppy honours the ‘valour’ of British soliders in all the ‘glorious wars’ fought by Britain all over the world. Does this mean it honours those who shot the civilians on Bloody Sunday etc There is no honour in this.

    We should remember WW1 as a tragic and disgusting example of the murder machines that are empires. Much more value would be gained in remembering the war by not repeating the same mistakes again in Iraq, Afghanistan or Pakistan than by all the jingoistic unfurling of flags and wearing of poppies.

  • Thanks for the comments. Over on O’Conall St http://www.oconallstreet.com I have blogged about whether the volunteers motives were patriotic or economic. I think it was probably a mixture of both.

  • I agree with Peadar Tibn. World War One was a futile and tragic waste of human life that should not be honoured but regretted. It was not a war fought for ideals but one fought for selfish ends on the part of all the powers (not the individual soldiers) involved.

  • Notforgotten.

    I appreciate Peadar Tibn’s views. But when he starts talking about British armies and killing civilians he’s straying unto controversial territory. Too many in the North have too many memories and wounds inflicted on them by another “army” of so-called Irishmen. This army has/had its roots in the Republic.

  • Kelly

    I’ve worn my Poppy in Dublin these past few years.

    Much to the surprise of some friends I’m still here to tell the tale.

  • shane

    “The North was quick to remember, it seems the ‘Free State’ was in a hurry to forget.”

    This is nonsense.

    In 1919, the Royal British Legion began an all-Ireland project to create an Irish National War Memorial in Dublin. Eventually, on Cosgrave’s advice, it chose to do so on the Islandbridge site. Cosgrave wrote to the committee: “There are many schools of thought now, but this is in the main, a big question of Remembrance and Honour to the dead. The war memorial is really not a concern of mine, nor is it a concern of my office, except that it must always be a matter of interest to the Head of Government to see that a project which is dear to a big section of the citizens, should be a success.”

    He also gave a grant of £50,000 for the project.

  • shane

    Unionists propogandists and career-minded historians have been assidious in protraying Republicans as having uncharitably ‘forgotten’ their dead, the actual reason for the disparity of commerations is actually partly theological. Catholics have never been as much into the concept of ‘rememberance’ for the dead as Protestants have. The primary purpose of a Requiem Mass in Catholicism is not to ‘remember’ the individual (a teritary function of the Exequial Mass), but to offer a propitious sacrifice for his soul in purgatory. In the Protestant churches a rememberance service is there to commemerate his life etc. At the start of the northern state, a kind of cult of the war developed around the events at the Somme which consequently never took hold among Catholics. For Catholics focus on the dead was much more directed towards specific individuals or towards the dead in general (eg The Holy Souls) than on corporate ‘commemeration’ of batallions.

  • Rory Carr

    I should have added at the end of my above contribution that I find it most fitting to commemorate my grandfather’s life and death not with the red poppy but rather with the red flag of international brotherhood.

  • Mustafa Slash

    Get real. The Brit who pissed on the cenotaph had the right idea. Fuck the dead murderers.

    The Somme, incidentally, was not mindless. It was part of the strategy of the day. Bleed the Kraut and survive by having more numbers. The Germans (commemorate them?) did the same in 1918 and lost their best divisions before the Yankee vultures scopped up the loot.

    And let’s not forget the Tories who made so much money out of the Greeat War.

    Traitors gate is well named. Fuck them and their mothers who spawned them.

    UTP.

  • Coll Ciotach

    I personakly do not give the people who died, on any side, any more thought than I would give those who fought in the Peninsular War.

    I commemorate the brave and the true at Easter and were the Lily with pride, the symbol of those who showed the world that right is greater than might.

    The poppy is a foreigners affectation.

  • joeCanuck

    Copied from another thread:

    From today’s Irish Times:

    Thousands of Irish soldiers killed in both World Wars will be honoured at a cross-Border commemoration service in Co Louth today.

    Ex-service groups from both sides of the Border will stand shoulder to shoulder and pay tribute to the war dead at the only all-Ireland remembrance event on the island.
    …..

    As the last post is sounded and the traditional two-minute silence observed traditional Royal British Legion Poppy wreaths will be laid next to the tricolour wreaths of the Organisation of National Ex-servicemen (ONE).

    ….

  • kevin barry

    I think Jer’s made a number of very valid points.

    I look at the sacrifice made by the ‘volunteers’ with pity as they were duped into fighting what they believed was a war to put a halt to Prussian hegemony against smaller nations on the continent, while in fact they gave there lives in order to divide German and Ottoman lands amongst London and Paris and subject foreign people to different imperial masters.

    I have nothing against people wearing the poppy to remember those who fought or the numerous ceremonies, but there is no glory in war and with the exception of WW2, all war is driven by greed and self interest and waged by chicken hawks who ask for the ultimate sacrifice but are not willing to give this themselves, though obviously WW2 might not fall even into this exception.

  • Gerry Mander

    And don’t forget Kevin Barry was murdered by the rope (O’Malley thinks shot) because he executed a member of the Occupation forces, which gave us Monto, the clap and 800 years of crime. That Brit had no right in Ireland to to commemorate him or any of his Black and Tan buddies is a disgrace. As are the ONE Free Staters but that is another story.

    Turn their cenotaphs into urinals.

    Next thing the Provos will be wearing Poppies in remembrance of those they stiffed.

  • Last Post

    I too have visited the Western Front and Conall’s report is interesting. But when he says that the Republic “should take its place” there well….
    For a start there was no Republic in 1914-1918 and ever since its inception it has made sure it has maintained a neutrality. What claims therefore does it have over the Brave Irish of WW1?. Those old soldiers took the King’s shilling and willing fought under the Union flag as did their Northern compatriots. They were British soldiers. If they had a voice to-day would they want to lie under an Irish Tricolour. Somehow I doubt it.

  • Interested

    I’m no expert on Catholicism, but Shane says Catholics have no great interesy in Remembrance.
    Well I’ve been to the Menin Gate where the Catholic Belgians Remember the Fallen every night,every day,every year.
    Maybe he should be having a word with them.

  • DerTer

    Gerry Mander

    Once again you shame yourself

  • Dave

    The SDLP are essentially unionists, so they would encourage the Irish nation to involve itself in the rituals of the British state. Their vision of unity is not an 32-country Irish nation-state but an island that is as much of an extension of “the mainland” as Northern Ireland is. In other words, it is about Northern Ireland annexing Ireland rather than vice versa. Their ‘post-nationalist’ spiel is essentially that the Irish nation should recognise that they have no right to self-determination and therefore no need of a nation-state, so they should hand over control of the state to the British nation by re-integrating it income the UK or, alternatively, by allowing the British nation to hold a veto over their right to self-determination, thereby rendering that right subject to exercise within a circumscribed framework that pleases those who are opposed to its cultural and political expression. They’re just quislings. Their view is that the Irish nation should rightfully express allegience to the British state. So, this encouragement of the Irish nation to join in celebration of the British state and its armed forces is fully consistent with that.

  • Joe McCann

    Dear Sir/Madam,

    De Valera was the only head of state in the world to sign the book of condolences on the death of Hitler, after the liberation of Auschwitz, on behalf of the ‘Free State’. Shame, Shame, Shame!
    Let me repeat that, CONDOLENCES ON THE DEATH OF ADOLF HITLER ON BEHALF OF THE IRISH FREE STATE! The German nation has spend the past 60 years overcoming, and are still trying to overcome their having being used as the wheels of the Nazi regime. The Irish Nationalist throughout Ireland, needs to start sorting themselves out. Indeed, don’t even try to sort out the mess of the past, and the most shameful of alliances. Is there an element within Irish Nationalism, which is Irish Nazi(ism)?
    President McAleese couldn’t even say it was morally wrong that de Valera signed the book of condolences and sidestepped this by saying this was a “local issue” that should not distract us from the dreadful consequences of what happened in Auschwitz. Shame, Shame, Shame!
    We aren’t Arian! The Pole, the Jew, the Gypsy, then the Slav, and then they would have driven the Irish into the Atlantic!
    Irish Nationalist, in private, today, apologise to yourself, your families, your blood, and your fallen heroes, then ‘en masse’ take your places (long held in reserve) with every other civilised nation in the world to remember those who laid down their lives that we should live. To remember those from your own nation, blood and family who so bravely died. LET US ALL LEARN, from the sacrifice so many of them made. Never again treat with distain the Irishmen who died in the World Wars! Go and stand at the War memorials. Wear a Poppy with pride! Get over Dev the Nazi apologist, coward and British plant. Have more backbone than McAleese.
    Remember your Irish brave! And weep, and weep, and weep! Be Peacemakers, and never Warmongers again. And drive all talk of all further war, on this island, to the pit of Hell. The poppy grows on the graves of our dead, it’s time to get rid of the ‘ShameRock’ and let the Poppy grow in peace with the Shamrock.

    You may not have dealt with it this year, but now you have a whole year to think about it.

    Yours,

    Joe McCann
    (A Presbyterian Republician)

  • Ulick

    Oh God, such drivel – you’re well placed with the stoops Conall, I’ll give you that. I can only hope that such comments are playing to some other audience in relation to your run in South Belfast because we all know no one in the south is listening to you. I’ve two uncles who’ve their names inscribed on the Menin Gate but neither appear on the local war memorial, not that we could give a shit, but I’d suggest to you that your time and your party’s time would be better spend addressing the concerns of your own constituency. So rather than make such asinine remarks in the full knowledge no one will act on them, how about using your influence where it may matter and pushing the unionists into a greater acknowledgement that many if not most of those “sons” of “Ireland” that “made the ultimate sacrifice”, did so at the behest of nationalist politicians such as Redmond and Devlin who urged them to fight for Home Rule and independence. Or might that upset the apple cart and the soft unionist vote in South Belfast? If this is the kind of leadership we can expect from SDLP career politicians, I really hope you are wiped out very soon, so there is space for someone with a bit of passion.

  • KieranJ

    This son of a bitch, Joe McCann, fails to tell you that Eamon de Valera who signed the condolence book for Hitler is the same Eamon de Valera who was fired upon and finally taken prisoner in Dublin by the same army for which this son of a bitch wants us to wear a poppy in rememberance.

    Think about it.

  • Wilde Rover

    Should the Black and Tans, picked from the de-mobbed British Army, also be remembered?

    There really is no self-loathing like Irish self-loathing.

  • Mustafa.

    Those are hate comments which I am reporting to Mick. If you have a point please try and make it without spewing bicotry all over this thread.

    Dave

    I am Irish and a republican. This is a diverse island. Our people are free to determine their destiny. Such a pity you have tried to politicise this thread.

  • Ulick

    The reason there are no McDevitts on the gate is beause we are a republican family and during that period my great-grandfather and his sons were actively engaged in repubican agitation in Belfast. In fact the attick of my great grandfathers tailor’s shop on Rosemary St was refuge to several English soldiers escaping the war.

    I wrote this thread not to remember or honour but to recognise that this is a period in republican – nationalist Irish history which still needs to be properly debated.

    Whatever about your disinterest in this debate I can tell you this. The President is listening!

  • Greenflag

    Conall ,

    ‘that this is a period in republican – nationalist Irish history which still needs to be properly debated.’

    Does it really ? It’s been ‘debated’ to death for the past 50 years or more . To what end anyway ? Or in bluntese what’s the bloody (pun intended ) point ? Those Irish who listed in the great slaughter of 1914 -1918 came from all corners of Ireland -some were Unionists some were Nationalists some were even Republicans and many were as Rory Carr puts it above , just trying to feed the families they did’nt live to see ever again .

    I don’t have a problem re Ireland officially commemorating the dead of WW1 or WW2 for many of those who died in WW1 believed they were fighting for a Home Rule -Ireland post war . For that they died in vain . It was left for those who fought for the Republic to achieve that ‘particular ‘ dream and as we look across today’s political wasteland in NI that was not fully accomplished either .

    I look upon all of this necrophilial devotion to mass slaughter as more than a little overblown and eerie . Just as I don’t like to see the Irish language dragged down into the gutter of NI party politics I feel the same about the annual Remembrance Day ‘positioning ‘ among the NI necromancers of blood sacrifice .

    Perhaps this is all part of a build up to the 100th annivesary of Aug 1914 , when after 44 years of peace between the major powers the rulers of Europe and their generals collectively went insane and butchered 30 million people ?

    2014 might be a good time for the people of NI to turn away from the worship of the dead and focus instead on the ‘living ‘

  • Tkbytesback

    As someone who had two great grandfathers and one grandfather in the First World War and one grandfather who fought in the War of Independence I often think of them on Remembrance Sunday. All their medals are sitting across from me at this desk.
    I think they all deserve both honour and remembrance. None them chose the conflicts they served in. My namesake fought in the War of Independence while his own father fought in the First world War. My grandfather went on to become Mayor of Newry and his best friend and political comrade was a man who fought and was wounded at Dunkirk. I have very fond memories of him too. Bravery is not something to be scorned by those who never fought or those that seem to think putting on a balaclava makes them a soldier.

  • George

    It is surely time the Republic of Ireland, free, confident and proud take its place amongst the modern states to honour its sons who went to war and made the ultimate sacrifice.

    It does, on the National Day of Commemoration in July. Maybe you should go some time.

  • George I have atteneded the National d=Day of Commemortaion in July. A very fione and fitting day it is too. What I am advocating in a physical presence somewhere along the Western Front.

    Have you ever visited there?