Government ignored war ceremony

 

In 1967 Eoin "Pope" O'Mahony was almost the lone Irish presence at a 50th anniversary ceremony for Maj Willie Redmond in Flanders. Official Ireland, fresh from commemorating the golden jubilee of the 1916 Rising, was embarrassed at Irish involvement in the first World War.

The quixotic O'Mahony sent a telegram to the Department of External Affairs requesting the attendance of a representative. However, Sean Ronan, Assistant Secretary, told the Irish ambassador in Brussels, Gerard Woods, that the Tanaiste, Frank Aiken, "was not in favour of representation from the embassy as this would create a precedent for attendance at similar functions for Irishmen killed all over the world." Nobody from the embassy or a visiting EEC mission should attend the memorial Mass.

But Mr O'Mahony was returning from the University of Southern Illinois for the commemoration, Mr Ronan informed Mr Woods. The ambassador said he would invite Mr O'Mahony to tea in the afternoon, "and that this might help to keep up good relations with him and avoid subsequent controversy."

Willie Redmond, brother of John and MP for East Clare, died at the Battle of Messines Ridge on the Feast of Corpus Christi, 1917. He was buried in the garden of St Anthony Hospice, Loker. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission wanted his body to be reinterred in a nearby military cemetery.

Eoin O'Mahony asked that Redmond's mortal remains be saved "from the profanation of exhumation" 50 years after his death. His widow, Eleanor Redmond Dalton, had erected a limestone cross over his grave.

Mr O'Mahony was "certain that it would have been her wish that her husband should remain where he had originally been buried, alongside but not within the British cemetery. She felt strongly that Maj Redmond was an Irishman fighting as an ally of the British army, but not as an English soldier. It was the attitude of the vast majority of Irish nationalists at the time of his death."

The commission backed off: the removal of his body was "postponed indefinitely in view of the strength of interest now being shown in Ireland, as well as in Loker."