The Irish State ignores the deaths of its soldiers who died in the Civil War while being happy to commemorate those who died fighting for the British in the first World War, a senior Defence Forces officer has said.
There is no dedicated memorial for members of the National Army (NA), the precursor to the Defence Forces, and no yearly commemorative event, Comdt Stephen MacEoin argues in the latest edition of the Defence Forces Review, a yearly journal focusing on military issues.
About 780 members of the National Army died during the Civil War while “prosecuting what was ostensibly an extension of the political and democratic will of the Irish people,” he said.
Comdt MacEoin, who has served as director of the Military Archive and on the Expert Advisory Group on Centenary Commemorations, said the fact that they are ignored is a reflection of Ireland’s ambivalence towards its military.
“Perhaps the clearest example of this ambivalence, as we have seen, is demonstrated in how the State can richly commemorate the Irish who served in the British armed forces in a variety of sometimes contentious conflicts, but chooses rather to ignore or at least sideline those who served in its own forces, excepting with the UN.”
As the National Army (NA) was the direct precursor to the Defence Forces and was “the legitimate army of a democratic nation state”, it would follow that the Irish State might seek to honour or at least commemorate those who died while “serving according to the wishes of the government and the majority of the people”, he said.
The officer argued that, if the Irish dead of the first World War were once ignored, they cannot be said to be ignored today. Armistice Day is celebrated every year with the presence of a Defence Forces Colour Party and, in 2016, the deaths of those fighting on the British side in 1916 was commemorated for the first time.
“At State ceremonial level, there is no single event to commemorate the NA war dead,” he said.
The only day which could be argued to remember NA dead is the National Day of Commemoration, in July, an event which officially honours “those Irishmen and Irishwomen who died in past wars or on service with the United Nations”.
Comdt MacEoin said this day "in a very non-offensive and Irish way, potentially accommodates any Irish soldier or civilian who died anywhere, from Clontarf in 1014 to Fontenoy in 1745 to Normandy in 1944".
"To remain cynical for a moment, the event might even accommodate Irish people who died fighting on the side of the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and Syria [Isis] in recent conflicts, such as 'Khalid Kelly'."
The only site which could be argued to commemorate National Army war dead is the dilapidated "army plot" in Glasnevin Cemetery. But again, this does not make any explicit reference to the Civil War, "where the State suffered by far its largest casualties", he said.
Within the Defence Forces itself, little regard is paid to the Civil War dead, he said. Its official roll of honour only commemorates those who died on UN service.
“There is no reference to the far greater number of fallen in the Civil War – or even to those who died in training and on operations (eg clearing of sea-mines) during the Emergency/second World War, for that matter.”
Writing elsewhere in the journal, Comdt Conor King, who is general secretary of the Representative Association of Commissioned Officers (Raco), stated that the current level of Irish military spending is "dangerously low."
Calling the Defence Forces an “insurance policy” for the State, whose worth has been demonstrated by the Covid-19 pandemic, Comdt King said it has been “significantly undermined” by under-resourcing from the Government.