Giving our war dead their rightful place in history

Decade of Centenaries lets us tell the stories of Irish who fought in the first World War, writers Heather Humphreys

The grave of an unknown Irish Soldier lies in the Messines Ridge military cemetry in Belgium. Photograph: Aidan Crawley

The grave of an unknown Irish Soldier lies in the Messines Ridge military cemetry in Belgium. Photograph: Aidan Crawley

 

Throughout this Decade of Centenaries, the Government has been committed to exploring the complicated narratives surrounding Ireland’s participation in the first World War. To fail to do so, or to present a narrow account of our past, would be to deny those who suffered and those who died their rightful place in Irish history. These commemorations have, I believe, greatly expanded our understanding and appreciation of the shared, and varied, heritage on this island.

Although almost every community on this island was affected by the Great War, many of the men who returned home from its battlefields were forced to conceal their experiences, and for decades their stories went untold. No longer. The Decade of Centenaries has allowed us to right that wrong, with a renewed interest and focus on remembering those who fought and died in that terrible conflict.

This year the Government will continue to commemorate the key events of the first World War in 1917, based on the inclusive, respectful and consultative approach that has become the hallmark of the commemorative programme to date. This will include:

Significant State commemorations in June in Belgium, to mark the Battle of Messines. I am working with my colleague Minister Charlie Flanagan TD on the commemorative programme, which includes events on June 7th at the Irish Peace Park in Messines and smaller ceremonies at Wytschaete Cemetery and the graveside of Maj Willie Redmond MP, and a wider cultural programme.

On June 11th, the Royal British Legion will host a centenary service of commemoration at the War Memorial in Armagh.

The death of Maj Redmond will also be remembered – my department is supporting Wexford to hold commemorations of his life and legacy.

On June 17th, Leopardstown Park Hospital celebrates the centenary of its establishment as a hospital for the care of soldiers who were disabled or injured in the British Armed Forces.

On June 24th, we will also mark the centenary of the death of the great Irish poet Francis Ledwidge with a moving ceremony in Slane, Co Meath.

These commemorations present a significant opportunity for furthering the process of reconciliation, including in Northern Ireland, as we mark the far-reaching events of a century ago.

Heather Humphreys is Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs