A ceremony has taken place at the Garden of Remembrance in Dublin to remember all those who died in the Irish Civil War.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Tánaiste Micheál Martin, representing the two parties that emerged from the Civil War split, laid a single wreath between them. The inscription read: “I gcuimhne orthu siúd go léir a cailleadh le linn Chogadh na gCarad (in memory of all those lost during the Civil War).
The Civil War ended after 11 months with a “dump arms” order by Frank Aiken, the anti-Treaty IRA commander-in-chief on May 24th, 1923, but the order wasn’t made public until disclosed by the Irish government on May 29th of that year.
Approximately 1,400 people were killed in the war and the physical damage exceeded the entire tax take for a year in the new Irish state.
The simple ceremony featured no speeches other than a prayer from the Defence Forces chaplain Fr Dan McCarthy.
The ceremony of reconciliation put the emphasis on youth with the opening song, Meet Me Here, from the Cór Linn Youth Choir. Violinist Aoife Ní Bhriain performed An Buachaill Caol Dubh and comedian Laura O’Mahony read Patrick Kavanagh’s poem Peace.
The ceremony is the penultimate event of the decade of centenaries which began in 2012. It will officially end with an event in September of this year to mark 100 years since Ireland ended the League of Nations.
Expert Advisory Group on Commemorations chairman Dr Maurice Manning said it was important to have a finality to the Civil War commemorations.
“There was a feeling that something definitive was needed and this was a very beautiful ceremony today. It worked very well,” he said.
The vice-chairman Dr Martin Mansergh said it was the “perfect setting” for ending the Civil War commemorations. “The Civil War was a tragedy, but we have come an enormous distance in the last 100 years. We should be thankful for that thankful for a ceremony that could be conducted entirely without rancour.”
The ceremony was conducted in strong sunshine. The cruciform pool, which is the central feature of the Garden of Remembrance has as its principle motif broken shields and spears reflecting the old Celtic tradition of erstwhile enemies breaking their weapons when they agree peace terms.
The ceremony was attended by many relatives of those who were killed in the war. Bairbre Kelly was there with 11 members of her family to remember National Army soldier Gerald O’Connor who was shot in the head when his convoy was ambushed by the anti-Treaty IRA near Gort in Co Galway on July 8th, 1922. He left a widow with three young children.
“We are here to remember all his relatives who were affected by his death down through the generations. It is a very special occasion,” she said.
Former minister for justice Michael McDowell was there to remember the tragedy which affected his own grandfather Eoin MacNeill who was a minister in the Free State government during the Civil War.
His son Brian took the anti-Treaty side and was killed, some believe summarily executed, on the slopes of Ben Bulben, in September 1922, by soldiers of the Free State Army serving his father’s government. “It was a thing that was never really spoken about it. It was one of these tragedies in the family. Back in the 1960s, Frank Aiken published a book about Irish history and it didn’t mention Collins or Griffiths. That attitude has changed completely now.”