The value of centenaries
Sir, – Your correspondent John Rogers (Letters, April 7th) equates commemoration of the upcoming centenaries with the glorification and celebration of blood sacrifices, and refers in a somewhat jocose manner to the events at Gallipoli, the Somme and at the GPO.
While in the past we may have heard phrases such as “our glorious dead” I doubt if those who wish to commemorate the death of an ancestor 100 years after the event are trying to glorify them. They may rather be trying to get some semblance of recognition that they actually did exist and that they did die in the fields of France, Belgium and Gallipoli for causes which at the time were seen and believed to be a matter of world importance.
The problem in Ireland is that these war deaths were overtaken by the events relating to the Irish rebellion and by the time the survivors of this horrific rather than glorious war came home, Ireland had moved on, nationalism had been fanned by the execution of the leaders of the rebellion, and although they were Irish themselves they were treated like pariahs. It became almost shameful to even mention the 40,000 to 50,000 Irishmen who perished.
In even the smallest town in other European countries there are monuments recalling the names of those who died. More than 700 men from Galway died, for example, yet their names are not recalled anywhere in that city. Now, at the centenary of the start of the first World War, there is an opportunity for Galway and every other town in Ireland to correct this continuing slight. For those who lost family, it is not a celebration, but a long overdue commemoration. Yours, etc,
Sir, – Once again this weekend I have read (twice) the unchallenged view in the columns of The Irish Times that, this State shamefully ignored or neglected Irish participation in what Gay Byrne continues to call “the Great War”.
This is getting boring. I write as someone who lost a great-uncle in that war and who has visited the Belgian memorials to the dead. Given the way the commemorations have evolved in Britain, does Gay Byrne really believe it was realistic or appropriate for a fledgling state, in the immediate aftermath of the War of independence to have found time to commemorate a war which was largely fought over five miles of muddy ground on the Western Front and which was a complete waste of all of those Irish lives?
It is now almost obligatory to wear a poppy if you wish to appear on British TV during November, and the symbol has been used to justify the illegal war in Iraq and to silence criticism of the presence of British troops in Afghanistan. Quite incredibly, people like Gay Byrne are more concerned with criticising post-independence silence about first World War dead and survivors than with taking the British government of the time to task for encouraging his father, my great-uncle and their comrades to go to death or injury in Gallipoli, the Somme and Messines ridge.
A hundred years on let’s have a proper debate in which iti is legitimate to criticise propaganda. And if we do commemorate, can we not also point out the folly of the whole sorry escapade, bury any talk of noble sacrifice and question why a war to end wars is now used to justify, and silence criticism of, current illegal conflicts? Lest we forget. Yours, etc,
Rock Street ,