Minister criticises historical attitudes of Irish politicians to WW1

Charlie Flanagan says suffering of bereaved men and families not properly acknowledged

From the cover of Messines to Carrick Hill: Writing Home from the Great War by Tom Burke.

From the cover of Messines to Carrick Hill: Writing Home from the Great War by Tom Burke.

 

Attitudes to the Irish who died in the first World War were a “sad reflection” on previous political generations, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Charlie Flanagan, has said.

Mr Flanagan maintained the war, in which at least 35,000 Irishmen died, affected every family and community in Ireland. The suffering caused by the war endured long into independence, but it was not acknowledged by the political classes which emerged in the Irish Free State, he suggested.

“We are now, only in the last decade feeling a little more comfortable to acknowledge publicly an extraordinary aspect of our Irish history.”

Mr Flanagan was speaking during the launch of the book Messines to Carrick Hill: Writing Home from the Great War by Tom Burke, who is also the chairman of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers Association.

The book is based on letters from 19-year-old Lieut Michael Wall who joined up in 1916 and was killed at the Battle of Messines Ridge on June 7th, 1917. He spent just nine months with his battalion. He was a member of the 6th Royal Irish Regiment, the same regiment in which Maj Willie Redmond MP fought and died at Messines Ridge. In that battle the 16th (Irish) Division and 36th (Ulster) Division fought side by side.

Mr Flanagan said Messines Ridge had become “an important symbol of reconciliation in recent years” as evidenced by the opening of the Island of Ireland Peace Park in 1998.

Mr Burke said the background story was Wall and his involvement in the Battle, but it was really a story about Irish participation in the first World War.

“It is a story of unfulfilled potential and possibility, of a lost generation represented by the singular figure of Michael Wall,” he said.

“If there had not been a war, think of what these young men could have offered their country. They were potential poets, writers, scientists and dreamers. Just think what [Tom] Kettle, [Thomas] MacDonagh, [Patrick] Pearse and [Eamonn] Ceannt could have given us had it not been for war and revolution.”

Mr Kent suggested the loss of millions of men in all the combatant countries set back the progress of humanity by a generation.