Banquet for 7,000 Irish who died in Crimea

An eerily timed homage to the Crimean War Banquet, in Dublin, 160 years ago

 Officers and men of the 8th Hussars, the ‘King’s Royal Irish’, circa 1855, during the Crimean War. Photograph: Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Officers and men of the 8th Hussars, the ‘King’s Royal Irish’, circa 1855, during the Crimean War. Photograph: Hulton Archive/Getty Images

 

On the calm morning of October 22nd, 1856, a train steamed into Dublin’s Kingsbridge station, and 1,500 soldiers alighted and began a march east along the Liffey quays. More soldiers issued from the city’s barracks to join them: ultimately, a column of 3,000 redcoated personnel moved through the city, cheered on by bands and, according to contemporary newspaper reports, by throngs of hat-tossing Dubliners. In an Ireland quite unaccustomed to such peacetime military display, this was a startling sight.

The soldiers’ destination that day was the Tobacco Stores – better known today as the CHQ building in the capital’s north docklands – and the occasion was a lavish banquet to honour the 30,000 or so Irish troops who had fought under British colours in the Crimean War of 1854-1856. In all, 3,500 guests gathered for the Crimean War Banquet that day, a feast presided over by Lord Mayor Fergus Farrell and gawked at by 1,000 paying spectators. The guests were fed on “250 hams, 230 legs of mutton, 500 meat pies, 250 plum puddings weighing one ton and a half” – and much more, to say nothing of a pint of port per head.

The conflict in Crimea, fought between Russia on one side and Britain, France, Turkey and Sardinia on the other, drew all manner of Irishmen and women to the battlefield. Military personnel were joined by engineers, navvies, surgeons and Sisters of Mercy nuns – recruited because they were the cheapest nurses available; Irish soldiers and sailors received 32 Victoria Crosses for their heroism.

On the home front, Crimea had electrified public opinion: “Right and integrity and the sympathy of all well-constituted minds is on their side,” wrote the Dublin Evening News of the British cause. Recruiting stations reported a brisk business, and the troop ships sailing from the Kingstown and Queenstown quays were cheered by enthusiastic crowds.

Despite this public attention at the time, the Irish stake in the Crimean conflict is largely forgotten history.

This can in part be put down to the dominant iconography of the war: to the nursing work of Florence Nightingale and Mary Seacole; and to the Charge of the Light Brigade at Balaklava, memorialised by Tennyson. It is also due in part to the shadow Crimea has cast into the future: the war acted as a blood-soaked dress rehearsal for future conflicts – it was fought with newly invented rifles and munitions, and the result was a shocking mortality rate. More than 600,000 men died in horrifying conditions; some 7,000 of these were Irish.

But this historical neglect is also rooted in a willed forgetting of the past: in an ambivalent attitude to an imperial history in which Ireland was inevitably invested, and that would find its apotheosis decades later in official Ireland’s disregard of the memory of the Great War and the tens of thousands of Irish soldiers who served in the trenches.

Almost 160 years later, and another Crimean War Banquet is in preparation beneath the cast-iron roof of CHQ. The brainchild of Michelle and Erik Robson, owners of the Ely group of wine bars and restaurants, it is designed not only to recall the memory of the dramatic original banquet, but also to raise funds for Barnardo’s, which runs a family support unit on nearby Buckingham Street.

The strange synchronicities of history, of course, are not lost on the Robsons, as they plan this event against a backdrop of rising tensions in today’s Crimea. “The timing is – eerie,” says Erik, “but all the more reason to plan an event that clearly recalls the past.”


Ely’s banquet for Barnardo’s takes place at 7pm on April 10th at CHQ, Dublin 1; Tickets are €80, elywinebar.ie

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.