Irishmen and Irishwomen who died in wars or while serving with the United Nations were remembered in Dublin at the State’s most formal annual event.
The National Day of Commemoration – also marked at ceremonies in Cork, Galway, Kilkenny, Limerick, Sligo and Waterford – is held on the Sunday closest to July 11th, the anniversary of the date the truce was signed in 1921 to end the Irish War of Independence.
At the main commemoration, at the Royal Hospital in Kilmainham, military ceremony, music and prayer were blended in an event led by President Michael D Higgins and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar.
Leaders from Christian, Coptic Christian, Jewish and Islamic denominations read or sang prayers and readings, and President Higgins laid a laurel wreath, observed by more than 1,000 guests, including Government Ministers; the Council of State, which advises the Taoiseach; members of the judiciary; members of the diplomatic corps; TDs and Senators; representatives of ex-servicemen’s organisations; and relatives of the leaders of the 1916 Rising.
The national flag was lowered to half-mast while the last post and reveille were sounded; after a minute’s silence a gun salute was sounded and the flag raised again, before the national anthem was played with a fly-past by three Pilatus PC-9 aircraft.
The Army band of the 1st Brigade and pipers played music including Limerick's Lament and A Celtic Lament as guests arrived at the quadrangle of the former British army veterans' hospital, now the Irish Museum of Modern Art.
The prayer service began when Imam Sheikh Hussein Halawa of the Islamic Cultural Centre, father of Ibrahim Halawa, who is in prison in Cairo, sang verses from the Koran in Arabic and prayed in English: “I ask Allah, the Mighty, the Lord, to bless our country, Ireland, and give the people of our country a zeal for justice and strength for forbearance.”
Soloist Sharon Lyons sang hymns between prayers and readings from all denominations, ending with Rabbi Zalman Lent: “May the efforts and sacrifice of those we honour today be transformed into the blessing of people throughout the world.”
Speaking to reporters, Chief of Staff of the Defence Forces Vice-Admiral Mark Mellett said more than 650 personnel were serving in 11 countries and on the Mediterranean Sea.
“In the Defence Forces we have over 80 people who have given their lives in the cause of peace internationally, and I think it’s a sign of a State that recognises those who give this service,” he said. “The military of our State serve the political and serve the people. And it’s this loyalty to the State which is actually critical, and I’m delighted that we have a day like this.”
None of us who served ever thought we would see the day we could travel in Lebanon without weapons, heavy armaments or flak jackets
His views were echoed by former sergeant Denis Barry, who said 47 Irish soldiers died in Lebanon and it was important to pay respects for that sacrifice. Last month, after serving with the Defence Forces on 12 missions to Lebanon and the Egyptian province of Sinai, he holidayed in southern Lebanon. “None of us who served ever thought we would see the day we could travel in Lebanon without weapons, heavy armaments or flak jackets.” That United Nations mission paid off, he said.
Former British soldier Ron Hammond said the event reflected positive developments, such as the creation of the veterans’ Union of British and Irish Forces.
He served from 1960 to 1980 in the Royal Irish Fusiliers and Royal Irish Rangers, spending time in Germany, Canada, Yemen and north and south Africa. He joined the British rather than the Irish forces because at the time “a home posting in the Defence Forces was Collins Barracks and an overseas posting was the Curragh encampment”.