Protesters heckle at Cross of Sacrifice ceremony

President Higgins urges respect for those who fought in first World War

President Higgins and the Duke of Kent were heckled by dissident republicans during the unveiling of the Cross of Sacrifice in Glasnevin cemetary. Peter Murtagh reports.

Fri, Aug 1, 2014, 16:04

A phrase in President Michael D Higgins’ speech captured, perhaps better than any other, the feelings of many of those who yesterday witnessed the dedication of the Cross of Sacrifice at Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin.

Referring to the writings of Irish men who fought in the British army during the first World War, including Thomas Kettle and Francis Ledwidge, the President talked at the joint Irish-British ceremony of their “multilayered sense of belonging”.

Beneath a canopy of dappled sunlight and with a light breeze, the seven-metre cross was dedicated in a ceremony infused with military pomp and solemnity. Before formal dedication proceedings began, a joint band, comprised of members of the Army No1 Band and the Band of the Royal Engineers, played tunes including the Irish hymn Be Thou My Vision and Abide With Me.

Two colour parties – the Irish comprising a captain and two sergeants from the 12th Infantry Battalion, the British comprising the same ranks but drawn from the 2nd Infantry Battalion of the Royal Irish Regiment – attended jointly.

A Defence Forces Ceremonial Guard of Honour, drawn from the 2nd Artillery Regiment at Custume Barracks, Athlone, lined the way as the first of the senior dignitaries, led by a piper, Corporal Anthony Kelly, of the Army No1 Band, proceeded to towards the cross. They included Heather Humphreys, Minister for Arts Heritage and the Gaeltacht; Theresa Villiers, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland; Dublin’s Lord Mayor, Christy Burke, and his Belfast counterpart, Nichola Mallon, and ambassadors from several countries, including the United Kingdom.

As they walked, shouts of “shame, shame, shame” and “Brits out” were hurled through the cemetery railings by about 25 supporters of Republican Sinn Féin and the 32 County Sovereignty Movement. They gathered on the footpath about 100 metres from the cross, having earlier been on the far side of the road.

Verbal abuse

Prince Edward, the Duke of Kent, approached and paused by the guard of honour as the band played the royal salute. Through the railings came a chorus of “Brits out”.

Shortly before this, members of the British military were subjected to verbal abuse, one of the protesters shouting: “Go home, British soldiers, go home; have you no f**king home?”

The abuse and heckling, which could be heard by all present, continued with few interruptions throughout the ceremony, to the evident irritation of many present, including, it appeared, Mr Higgins.

He spoke of the need to “undo the disrespect that was sometimes shown to those who fought for their families”.

Amid cries of “shame” from behind the railings, the President’s voice rose and he turned left, seeming to look in the direction of the noise, to say: “To all of [the fallen] in their silence we offer our own silence, without judgment, and with respect for their ideals, as they knew them, and for the humanity they expressed towards each other.”

Minute’s silence

After prayers and the laying of wreaths, there followed a minute’s silence, which was punctuated by heckling and a loud shout of “Higgins, you traitor”.

Following the Last Post and Reveille, guests and the public were invited to stay for tea; those who walked back towards the museum and main gate of the cemetery, were verbally abused by the Tricolour-waving protesters.

Gardaí saidl two protesters were arrested for public order offences, adding they strived to maintain “a balance between the right to peaceful protest, upholding public order”.