Mayors' tribute to Irish war dead
The unionist Lord Mayor of Belfast joined his Dublin counterpart today in paying tribute together to the shared sacrifice of Ireland’s war dead.
Gavin Robinson, of the Democratic Unionist Party, and Dublin first citizen Naoise O Muiri laid wreaths at the annual remembrance ceremony at the National War Memorial Gardens in Dublin.
The Royal British Legion Ireland event commemorates the involvement of nearly half a million from the island of Ireland who served during the First World War, 50,000 of whom were killed.
Mr Robinson said: “It is important that along with the Lord Mayor of Dublin I lay a wreath that acknowledges people from the Republic of Ireland and people from the north. They collectively spilt blood together and sacrificed themselves for us and it is important that we acknowledge that.”
The Queen took part in a similar ceremony and left flowers at Islandbridge last year. Mr Robinson said: “It is important that we remember and reflect the shared sacrifice.”
Old comrades associations linked to the Legion still honour the regiments which fought in 1914 — including the Connaught Rangers, the Dublin Fusiliers, the Royal Irish Regiment and the Rifles.
Representatives from Legion branches throughout Ireland were on parade today together with visitors from Wales and England.
The Irish Government was represented by Children’s Minister Frances Fitzgerald and ambassadors were headed by the recently appointed UK ambassador Dominic
Chillcot. Music was provided by the Defence Forces No 1 Army Band and choristers from Tramore Ladies Choir sang hymns.
Around 300 people were present — they even brought two Irish Wolfhounds. There was an ecumenical service, prayers and music.
One Korean War veteran, 80-year-old Major Michael Kearney MBE, was bristling with medals and also had some earned by his father in the Boer War.
Some 31,500 of John Redmond’s National Volunteers joined the First World War effort. Around 26,000 unionists from the north and south of Ireland enlisted.
After the War of Independence and Civil War forged a new Irish Free State for the southern 26 counties, commemorating war service became unfashionable.
But the remembrance ceremony tradition was reinstated in the 1980s and has occurred annually since then.
This was the first event since the Irish government said it will pardon 5,000 soldiers branded deserters and blacklisted for fighting for Britain against Nazi Germany.
A campaign organisation for the pardon is now disbanding and laid the last wreath.
On it was the message: “Honoured to the last, these brave and noble men so long denied and vilified now take their place among our heroes of the past.”
The minister for Justice Minister Alan Shatter apologised to the former troops, who were dismissed en masse under special powers introduced during the Second World War.
Officials were concerned a blanket pardon for desertion between 1939-45 would cause major issues for other soldiers court-martialled for going awol.
Mr Shatter, who regarded the soldiers as idealists, told the Dail in Dublin that people’s understanding of history has matured and that it was time for understanding and forgiveness.