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‘Symbolic’ event in Derry fosters renewed sense of shared history

SF representatives attend ceremony marking 98th anniversary of Battle of Messines

Standard-bearers with the Union flag and the Irish tricolour at the Cenotaph in Derry mark the 98th anniversary of the Battle of Messines. Photograph: Trevor McBride

For the first time a Sinn Féin Mayor of Derry and the Sinn Féin Speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly joined with ex-servicemen and ex-servicewomen from both sides of the border to mark the 98th anniversary of the Battle of Messines, one of the bloodiest battles of the first World War.

The historic event, which was organised by the International School for Peace Studies, included the Irish tricolour and the Union flag being carried by standard-bearers to the war memorial in the Diamond. Among those who laid wreaths were the city’s Mayor Councillor Elisha McCallion and Mitchel McLaughlin, Speaker of the Assembly. Both said their attendance for the first time at the ceremony was based on inclusiveness.

Former loyalist paramilitary leader Glen Barr, from the International School For Peace Studies, said the attendance of two high-profile Sinn Féin public representatives showed that most people now realised that we had a shared history.

History

“This symbolic ceremony here today will go a long way to achieving the goal of people from all walks of life appreciating that we should share our history and not allow it to divide us,” Mr Barr said.

Also there was retired Garda sergeant PJ Halloran from the Inishowen Friends of Messines organisation.

“Today was a small step in breaking down divisions, and more people are realising that we have more in common with one another than divides us. Today we remember a unique event which occurred near the Belgian village of Messines in 1917 when the traditionally opposing Nationalist 16th and Unionist 36th Ulster Divisions who, when confronted with a common objective, fought and died as comrades at the Battle of Messines Ridge, ” he said.

‘Great message’

Jim Fee of the Shankill Road and Lisburn branch of the Royal Irish Rangers Association said he was delighted to see Councillor McCallion and Mr McLaughlin at the ceremony for the first time.

“It sends out a great message. Back in June 1917 thousands from this country went over the top together in a common cause against a common enemy,” he said.