Green laurels laid beside poppies as Kenny and Gilmore honour war dead in North

Mon, Nov 12, 2012, 00:00

Green laurels rested amid the red poppies yesterday as Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore for the first time attended Remembrance Day ceremonies in Northern Ireland.

On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month yesterday, the Government at the highest political level finally was represented at ceremonies in Northern Ireland to commemorate the dead of the so-called Great War — and more poignantly in the Taoiseach’s case to remember those killed at Enniskillen 25 years ago.

Mr Kenny and Mr Gilmore, forgetting about the referendum count for a while, laid laurel wreaths, the Irish green contrasting strongly with scores of red poppy garlands placed at the cenotaph in Belfast and the war memorial in Enniskillen.

The Taoiseach joined with local DUP Minister Arlene Foster and the lord lieutenant of Fermanagh, Viscount Brookeborough, representing Queen Elizabeth in Enniskillen.

IRA bomb

Many hundreds more assembled with them at the war memorial at Belmore Street where in 1987 an IRA bomb blew apart a Poppy Day ceremony, killing 11 and injuring more than 60. A 12th victim, school principal Ronnie Hill, who had been in a coma, died in 2000.

After the wreathlaying, Mr Kenny travelled the short distance to St Macartin’s Church of Ireland cathedral for a service of commemoration led by the dean, the Rev Kenneth Hill. It was another occasion of solemnity, the only jarring note happening when the former Church of Ireland primate Lord Eames stood up to speak.

One man in his 60s or 70s shouted “Sinn Féin-IRA”. British Legion members in blazers quickly stood beside him, eyeballing him strongly to ensure there were no further interruptions.

After the service, the Taoiseach went into the deanery to meet some of the bereaved and the victims of the bombing including Jim Dixon, who was badly injured in the blast, and Joan Wilson, widow of Gordon Wilson and mother of Marie who died in the attack.

Mrs Wilson said she was glad the Taoiseach had come to Enniskillen. He told her he had met Mr Wilson when he was a senator in the Oireachtas. “He is a lovely man; I was delighted to see him,” she said. “It is very important towards reconciliation and we must all work towards that.”

The Taoiseach then went to the local Royal British Legion where he met several war veterans including some former Irish Army soldiers who had travelled from different parts of the country to join those who had served with the British army for the day of remembering.

Emotion of the day

He spoke of the importance and emotion of the day to him, of Queen Elizabeth’s visit to the Republic, and how he was honoured to have been there to place the wreath, his impromptu comments earning a standing ovation.

Outside he told reporters that the visit of Queen Elizabeth and her own tributes to the Irish war dead had “closed the circle of history” and that his visit to Enniskillen was also an historic day “both in reality and symbolically”.

Earlier at the war memorial Stephen Ross, who aged 15 nearly lost his life in the attack, said he too was glad the Taoiseach attended the ceremony. He suffered terrible face, body and leg injuries and had to have his face restored and left leg “rebuilt”.

“Apart from suffering with my teeth and having trouble standing around like this I am in good shape,” he said. He also was happy to see the Taoiseach.

“He is recognising the pain and suffering there has been in Northern Ireland. I think that he took time out to do that is very much appreciated here in the town of Enniskillen.”