New memorial for Irish killed in Battle of Passchendaele

Monument placed where nationalists and unionists together in Belgium 100 years ago

Nearly 5,000 Irishmen died at the Battle of Passchendaele. Among them were 1,200 men who were killed on one terrible day in August 1917. Video Enda O’Dowd/Ronan McGreevy

 

A memorial to Irish soldiers who died during the Battle of Passchendaele has been unveiled on the spot in Belgium where hundreds were killed in 1917.

The monument, made of Welsh blue pennant stone, is on the boundary between where the mainly nationalist 16th (Irish) Division and the unionist 36th (Ulster) Division left their trenches during an attack on August 16th, 1917.

Almost 1,200 men from both divisions were killed at Frezenberg Ridge outside Ypres on that day, making it one of the worst days for Irish casualties during the first World War.

The men were killed during a phase of the Battle of Passchendaele known as the Battle of Langemarck which lasted two days and was called off because of the bad weather.

It was the second and last time the two Irish divisions fought together, the first was at Messines Ridge in June 1917.

Members of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers Association and the Royal Munster Fusiliers Association were present for the unveiling along with Ruth Barrett from the Irish Embassy in Brussels and the Mayor of Langemarck Alain Wyffels.

The memorial has a bronze plaque attached to it designed by sculptor Willie Malone. His grandfather was killed in Flanders in 1915.

The inscription acknowledges those who died at Frezenberg Ridge, but is also dedicated to “all Irish soldiers who fought in Irish and non-Irish regiments and their non-Irish comrades who fought in Irish formations during the Third Battle of Ypres (Passchendaele)”.

The plaque includes the words of Francis Ledwidge’s poem ‘A Soldier’s Grave’. Ledwidge was one of almost 5,000 men from Irish regiments who died during the Battle of Passchendaele.

The memorial is on a country road near the village of Zonnebeke outside Ypres. It was instigated by Erwin Ureel, a former Belgian army officer, who first became interested in the story of the Irish in Flanders when he organised a memorial service for Major Willie Redmond MP who was killed at the Battle of Messines Ridge.

Former Taoiseach Enda Kenny, the Duke of Cambridge and the North’s First Minister Arlene Foster attended the centenary commemorations for the Battle of Messines Ridge in June.

Mr Ureel said his motivation for the memorial is to remember the second battle which has been forgotten about.

He said: “There is a perception that the Battle of Messines Ridge has become quite popular. Regrettably the Irish interest in Messines never went further than that story - and even that took a long time to become recognised.

“The story of the two Irish divisions is one of triumph and disaster. The triumph was Messines; the disaster was Langemarck. I am sure that is why Langemarck was forgotten.”

Royal Dublin Fusiliers Association’ chairman Tom Burke said it was appropriate the monument was located on the border between the positions of the two Irish divisions given the subsequent partition of Ireland.

“The challenge this memorial might bring to us is to break down our mental borders and look towards reconciliation,” he said.

Alan McFarland, the chairman of the Somme Association, told guests that three Shine brothers from Waterford were killed in the war. Their father also served as a doctor during the war.

Captain Jim Shine, the last of the brothers to die, was killed on August 16th, 1917.