German village to commemorate Irish prisoners of war

Separate event in Co Leitrim to remember an American soldier who died in WWI

A German village is to host a commemoration event on Sunday to remember the thousands of Irish prisoners of war incarcerated there during the first World War.

Dietkirchen outside Limburg will stage readings and a lone piper will play a lament to mark the centenary of the unveiling of a Celtic high cross on the site of where the prisoner-of-war camp once stood.

Limburg is famous because Sir Roger Casement visited there in late 1914 and early 1915 in a failed attempt to create an Irish Brigade which would fight with Germany against Britain.

The German authorities were confident they could benefit from mass defections. The country's military attaché in Washington, Franz von Papen, who went on to become chancellor before Adolf Hitler, stated: "Success and cooperation of all Irishmen in British army then beyond doubt. In northern France strong discord between Irish and English, therefore use of volunteer Irish prisoners against British again suggested."


However, just 55 Irishmen out of the 2,300 then assembled in the camp signed up to fight in the Irish Brigade. Casement was physically attacked in the camp by the prisoners and had to be rescued by prison guards.

The cross at Limburg was consecrated on June 3rd 1917 and remembers 45 Irishmen who died in the camp or surrounding camps between 1914 and 1918. The first to die, Frederick Reilly of the Cheshire Regiment, has a street in the village of Dietkirchen, Fredrick-Reilly-Strasse named after him.

The cross at Limburg is the only Celtic high cross in Germany and also the only extant memorial to prisoners of war who were incarcerated in the country during the war.


The mayor of Dietkirchen Markus Wirth said the emphasis in the service will on reconciliation and friendship.

"We think of the cruelties of the war. The sons bury their fathers, but during the war, fathers buried their sons," he said. "The cross is a reminder that we have had 72 years of freedom from war in Europe. "

The cross fell into disrepair but was restored 10 years ago and reconsecreted in November 2007.

Among those attending the event on Sunday will be Dr Tadhg Moloney whose grandfather Lance Corporal John Joseph Cleary was taken to Limburg to hear Casement speak. Also present from Ireland will be Tony O'Brien whose father T P O'Brien was a prisoner in Limburg.

A separate commemoration service will take place in Carrick-on-Shannon, Co Leitrim to remember an American soldier who died in the war and has an unmarked grave.

Michael Moffatt, a native of Cootehall, Co Roscommon, was killed on October 18th, 1918, less than a month before the end of the war.

He was buried in France, but his family took his body home in 1922 and buried him in Kiltoghert cemetery where he has lain in an unmarked grave since then.

His nephew, Eamon Moffatt, and The American Legion has ensured that a US military type headstone is now in place and will be unveiled on Sunday.

The ceremony, conducted by the American Legion in Ireland, will include the unveiling, a blessing of the grave by Fr Brendan McDonagh, the folding of the US burial flag, the presentation of same to his next of kin, laying a wreath and sounding The Last Post by a bugler.

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy is a news reporter with The Irish Times