President calls for 1914-18 war ceremonies

 

GALLIPOLI CEREMONY:PRESIDENT MARY McAleese has called for Ireland to hold a “shared commemoration” to mark the centenary of the beginning of the first World War in 2014.

Mrs McAleese was speaking as she visited the Gallipoli peninsula to commemorate the thousands of Irishmen who perished during the ill-fated 1915 campaign.

Asked by The Irish Timeshow she hopes Ireland will mark the centenary of the 1914-1918 war, the President replied: “By restoring to memory a generation who, of their time and in their circumstances, made sacrifices that they believed to be important . . . [restoring] in such a way that those memories no longer divide us in the way that they have done historically but allow us a shared commemoration.

“I think a shared commemoration would be a very important thing, and in many ways we have already gone down that road, with the 90th anniversary commemoration of the Somme. That was a very special event and I have no doubt that something similar will occur on the 100th anniversary.”

Such commemorations, Mrs McAleese said, constitute a rite of passage.

“That couldn’t happen for the 80th or 70th or any of the other preceding anniversaries but for the 90th it was possible, and the direction we are going in now with the peace process, with the restoration of good neighbourliness North and South, and really very warm relationships east and west, I think we have a lot to look forward to for the 100th anniversary.”

In a later address to those gathered at Green Hill cemetery for the unveiling of a plaque to the almost 4,000 Irishmen who died at Gallipoli, Mrs McAleese said she wanted to honour “our Irish dead – those who fought in British uniforms, those who fought in Anzac uniforms, and those whom they fought, the young Turkish men who defended their homeland”. The sacrifice of the Irishmen at Gallipoli had suffered a “deficit of remembrance” due to the vagaries of history, she said.

“The Irish who fought for the British Empire here were not only destined to be overwhelmed by those who opposed them but to have their memory doubly overwhelmed, for they fought in a campaign that was lost and so long overlooked . . . Those fortunate enough few who returned alive from Gallipoli returned to considerable ambivalence, even hostility about their role and their sacrifice.”

The distance of time and a changing historical context now allowed for an attempt to address this and, in doing so, to contribute to “the much-needed healing of memory on our own divided island”, the President said.

Each individual story from the horror of Gallipoli, with its 500,000 casualties drawn from both sides, was, she continued, a challenge to the world’s citizens to “find ways other than war to resolve our problems”.

The ceremony was attended by representatives of the Irish Defence Forces, including acting chief of staff Maj Gen David Ashe, members of the Somme Association and the Royal Dublin Fusiliers Association, and a representative of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

The President laid a laurel wreath wrapped in the colours of the Tricolour. Jonathan Craig, a Northern Ireland Assembly member standing in for First Minister Peter Robinson, laid a poppy wreath.

Mrs McAleese praised Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the man who led the Turkish forces at Gallipoli and later became the founding father of the Turkish Republic, for his “generosity of spirit” in remembering all those who died there.

She quoted from Ataturk: “There is no difference between the Johnnys and the Mehmets where they lie side by side here in this country of ours . . . You the mothers, who sent their sons from far-away countries, wipe away your tears. Your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. Having lost their lives on this land, they have become our sons as well.”