Irish Ministers attend Battle of Somme commemorations in France and Belfast

Belfast Sinn Féin lord mayor lays wreath for estimated 3,500 Irish soldiers who died in battle

The anniversary of the Battle of the Somme at Belfast City Hall yesterday morning. Photograph: Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker

The anniversary of the Battle of the Somme at Belfast City Hall yesterday morning. Photograph: Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker


Irish Ministers attended wreath-laying ceremonies in France and Belfast yesterday to mark the 97th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme.

Minister of State for Gaeltacht Affairs Dinny McGinley joined Northern Secretary Theresa Villiers at the Somme commemoration in France while Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs Joe Costello and First Minister Peter Robinson were among those attending the ceremony in the grounds of Belfast City Hall.

The DUP Deputy Lord Mayor of Belfast Christopher Stalford led the Belfast commemoration. But ahead of that ceremony Sinn Féin Lord Mayor Máirtín Ó Muilleoir placed a wreath in memory of thousands of soldiers, Protestant and Catholic, from North and South, who died or were injured in the Battle of the Somme.

An estimated 3,500 Irish soldiers died in the battle which began on July 1st 1916 with thousands more wounded. Nearly 2,000 of those killed were from the 36th Ulster Division, while about 1,200 were from the 16th Irish Division in the South. Most of the Irish deaths occurred on July 1st and over two days in September 1916.

‘Bravery and courage’
Mr Costello said he was very happy to be able to attend the Belfast ceremony. He wanted to commemorate the “bravery and courage of Irishmen throughout the island of Ireland who fought and died”. He said it was important to build upon and deepen the peace on the island of Ireland.

Ms Villiers and Mr McGinley participated in the annual Somme ceremonies at Thiep- val, Guillemont and at the Ulster Tower. Mr McGinley said it was a “tremendous privilege” for him to represent the Government. “I was particularly impressed by the Irish, British and Northern Irish who jointly honoured and commemorated those who died in World War I. I am keenly aware, also, of the 50,000 Irishmen who died during that war, many of whom were from my own county,” he said.

‘Supreme sacrifice’
Ms Villiers said Mr McGinley’s presence “reminds us that volunteers from throughout the whole of Ireland made the supreme sacrifice”.

She added: “The 36th Ulster Division suffered massive casualties, but their bravery was truly heroic, leading one eye-witness to say ‘their attack was one of the finest displays of human courage in the world’. As a result, the Somme has left an indelible mark on Northern Ireland.”

She said it was fitting that they also remembered the sacrifice of the 16th Irish Division. “They, too, suffered terribly.”