John Redmond belongs to Irish ‘canon of heroes’

Minister for Foreign Affairs says Woodenbridge speech misunderstood

The Woodenbridge World War One Memorial Garden in Co Wicklow was opened today. The memorial commemorates the 1,200  men from all areas of County Wicklow who died in the First World War. Photograph: Jack McManus

The Woodenbridge World War One Memorial Garden in Co Wicklow was opened today. The memorial commemorates the 1,200 men from all areas of County Wicklow who died in the First World War. Photograph: Jack McManus

 

John Redmond’s successful campaign to get the Third Home Rule bill on to the statute books was a “monumental achievement”, the Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan has said.

Speaking at the opening of the Wicklow War Memorial Park in Woodenbridge this evening, Mr Flanagan praised Redmond and said his name belongs in the “canon of heroes of the Parliamentary tradition - O’Connell and Wicklow’s own Charles Stewart Parnell foremost among them.”

He added: “Generations of Irish leaders - including O’Connell and Parnell - had persuaded, argued, confounded and confronted Britain in the home of its political power. Despite determined and often overwhelming opposition, they and their successors brought to bear all the tools of a very imperfect democracy to win a long sought prize - Britain, finally, legislating for home rule for Ireland. ”

Hundreds of visitors have been turning up to the new park on the banks of the River Aughrim near where John Redmond made his Woodenbridge speech 100 years ago, when he urged the Irish Volunteers to join the British war effort.

The names of 1,192 men from the county who died in the war are inscribed on a series of memorial stones. Among the name is John Redmond’s brother Willie who was killed at the Battle of Messines Ridge. He had a home in the county though he was MP for Clare.

Mr Flanagan said attempts to write the Irish men who volunteered to fight in the first World War had been “all to successful”.

He said the remembrance of “one Irish person lost to conflict takes nothing - nothing from remembrance of another. And the attempt to achieve a deeper understanding of each, only adds to our understanding of others.”

He added: “We forgot the shared experience of those Irish servicemen from North and South who fought shoulder to shoulder in Messines.

“We let it be felt that the families who had lost their husbands and sons should stay quiet, because they had been on the wrong side of the history we had written.

“Those divisions were made harder, sharper and more painful by the legacies of grief carried by families from the violence of that time. I am pleased to see that those attitudes are changing.”

Mr Flanagan said those who criticised John Redmond for his Woodenbridge speech did not understand the context of the time.

He explained: “This, it must be remembered, in a world with no United Nations, no peacekeepers, no International Criminal Court.

“A world where threatened peoples and small countries, like Belgium, could rely only on the unpredictable calculations of great powers, and their intricate shifting alliances, to protect them.

“Redmond believed Irish people should take a side. That Ireland could and should act to make a difference and defend the vulnerable and certain basic principles in a flawed and often brutal world.”.

Mr Flanagan was in “no doubt” that many of the Irish Volunteers who fought and died in the first World War did so following Mr Redmond’s call.

“With the benefit of historical hindsight, many now argue that the catastrophic loss of Irish lives in the First World War means that Redmond was mistaken in his call to the Volunteers,” he said.

“ This view of him has, to my mind, not only obscured the reasons for his call to the Irish Volunteers, but also, his legacy as one of the finest nationalist parliamentarians to serve his country.”