Minister pays tribute to relative who died at Gallipoli
Aodhán Ó Ríordáin said those who died in British uniforms were often forgotten
Aodhán Ó Riordáin was in Gallipoli with the Duke of Gloucester to pay tribute to the 10th (Irish) Division who left the peninsula in the autumn of 1915 for Salonika having sustained thousands of casualties. Photograph: Aodhán Ó Riordáin
Minister of State Aodhán Ó Ríordáin has described the visit to his relative’s grave in Gallipoli as squaring the circle of remembrance in his family.
Mr Ó Ríordáin was in Gallipoli with the Duke of Gloucester to pay tribute to the 10th (Irish) Division who left the peninsula in the autumn of 1915 for Salonika having sustained thousands of casualties.
Pte James Sheridan from Cortrasna, Granard, Co Longford was his maternal grandmother Eileen Sheridan’s uncle. Pte Sheridan was with the 1st battalion of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers when it came ashore at V Beach, Gallipoli, on April 25th, 1915. He died five days later.
Before leaving for Gallipoli, Mr Ó Ríordáin posted on his website a tribute to Pte Sheridan and contrasted how he had been forgotten in the family while Republican members were remembered. His grandmother had married the well-known republican Andrew Lynch.
He wrote: “She often talked of tales of Irish resistance to British rule. To British uniforms. My grandfather, her husband, fought in the War of Independence in his younger days. He and his brothers also took up arms in the civil war – trying to overthrow the new Irish Free State. You were a statistic then. Just another soldier in a Turkish grave. In a British uniform. So far from Cortrasna. Forgotten.”
Mr Ó Ríordáin, who is the Minister of State responsible for commemorations, laid flowers on his relation’s grave at V Beach cemetery overlooking where the Royal Dublin Fusiliers came ashore. Some 149 of them are buried in the cemetery.
Private Sheridan was 40 when he died.
“I’m almost the same age as you were when you died. I can’t imagine what went through your mind when you were close to your last breath. Did you think about your family? Your parents? Your brother? My great-grandfather?,” Mr Ó Ríordáin wrote.
“Did you think about Ireland? About home? About why your destiny was to die in a British uniform, on a Turkish battlefield.”
Mr Ó Ríordáin stated that duality, honouring both those who fought for and against the British, was at the core of the State commemoration.
The commemorations, he said, were partially to “ reawaken the dormant memories, the forgotten, the unspoken, and maybe even dispel any shame there might have existed. Not to reopen old wounds, but to shed light on, and hope to appreciate the reasons for, the many events which occurred which have helped to shape our world.”
He acknowledged that in the past public interest in and knowledge of Irish soldiers who fought and died in the first World War was “muted, if not absent. It is only in recent years that the role of the Irish at Gallipoli, and in the first World War more generally, has become more fully acknowledged in Ireland. ”
He said the fate of Capt Brian Cooper demonstrated the complexity of Irish history at the time. He fought with the 10th (Irish) Division, wrote the divisional history after the war, but later joined Fianna Fáil and served as a TD. When he died a Union Jack and the Irish Tricolour were placed on his flag.
See also: ‘Twas Better to Die - The Irish Times and Gallipoli 1915-2015, published by Irish Times Books. Available to subscribers and on Amazon and Kindle, priced €4.99. For more information, go to: www.irishtimes.com/more/ebooks