Island of Ireland Peace Park founders to be honoured on centenary of Messines battle

Efforts of Paddy Harte and Glen Barr to be remembered with commemorative plaque

The battle of Messines during the first World War was a unique moment in Irish history, unionist and nationalist soldiers from Ireland fought alongside each other for the first time. Video: Enda O'Dowd

 

A plaque in honour of Paddy Harte and Glen Barr, the founders of the Island of Ireland Peace Park in Flanders, will be unveiled to mark the centenary of the Battle of Messines Ridge.

Mr Harte, a former Fine Gael TD, and Glen Barr, a former UDA commander, were the prime instigators of the park outside the village of Mesen (Messines) which stands at the top of Messines Ridge.

The plaque will be unveiled by the Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan who is in Belgium for the centenary of the Battle of Messines Ridge.

The Island of Ireland Peace Park was opened in 1998 by President Mary McAleese and Queen Elizabeth II. It remembers not only the Irishmen who died in the first World War, but also those who died in the Troubles in Northern Ireland.

Paddy Harte is too unwell to travel to Belgium, but his son Paddy Jr said the plaque was a great honour for the family.

“It’s a very proud moment for me and for all of my family and for Glen Barr and Glen Barr’s family,” he said.

“It was a visionary undertaking. It emphasises the importance of reconciliation in solving our problems. It is a very powerful message.”

The Island of Ireland Peace Park will be the location for the main centenary events to mark the battle in which the 16th (Irish) Division and 36th (Ulster) Division fought together.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny, Prince William and the King of Belgium will be in attendance.

Speaking in advance of the centenary commemoration, Mr Kenny said his visit to the Island of Ireland Peace Park with the then British Prime Minister David Cameron in 2013 was one of the highlights of his time as Taoiseach.

“I think given our history and our tradition of fighting everybody else’s wars peace should never be taken for granted . . . As you go forward you have to learn from the past. If you don’t understand what history means then you are always entering into an unknown,” he said.

Earlier on Wednesday morning Mr Kenny and Mr Flanagan laid a wreath at the grave of Major Willie Redmond who was killed at the Battle of Messines Ridge.

In the afternoon a corten steel silhouette depicting Major Redmond being carried off the battlefield by John Meeke, a stretcher bearer with the 36th (Ulster) Division, will be unveiled outside Wytschaete military cemetery.

The sculpture has been commissioned by the local authority in Heuvelland at the instigation of Erwin Ureel, a former Belgian army officer.

Mr Ureel said the memorial was important to leave a permanent reminder of the fact that Catholic and Protestants soldiers from both parts of Ireland fought together at the Battle of Messines Ridge.