'Respect' urged for Irish in Great War

 

THE FIRST World War was the forgotten war in the Republic, Rev Brian Kennaway, president of the Irish Association, has said.

Speaking at the Byrne/Perry Summer School in Gorey, Co Wexford, at the weekend, he said those from the unionist tradition in Ireland “should respect the fact that some 31,500 of John Redmond’s National Volunteers joined the war effort in Kitchener’s New Army, without any hesitation. “We should also respect the fact that, for reasons of conscience – political or otherwise – some 10,000 did not,” he said.

“Those from the nationalist tradition on this island should respect the fact that some 26,000 unionists north and south joined the war effort not just in blind obedience to Edward Carson – but in the belief that it would preserve the union,” he said.

Ultimately some 206,000 Irish men served in the uniform of the crown, he said, while about 35,000 of those were killed.

He urged that “when we do commemorate the Great War we should do so remembering the great sacrifice of all the citizens of Ireland”.

He recalled how “the War of Independence and the Civil War created a legacy of amnesia” in the South.

The Ireland of 1919 became a very different place very quickly. “It became unpleasant, or at least uncomfortable, to be known to have served in the service of the crown.”

In the North, he said, it became the Protestant war. “For too long in the Protestant and unionist consciousness the contribution of our fellow countrymen, from the other 26 counties, was conveniently forgotten – particularly as the recent ‘Troubles’ took hold,” he said.

It was “difficult for us to comprehend, in our postmodern civilised society, that the only support offered to those who remained was the pittance of a war pension.

“To add insult to injury, in the new Ireland of freedom, many were pilloried for receiving the ‘King’s shilling’ at post offices throughout Ireland.”

At least 200 ex-soldiers were murdered by the IRA between 1919 and 1922, he added.

However, “the opening of the Peace Park at Messines, in Belgium, by president Mary McAleese in the presence of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth in November 1998, and the visit of Queen Elizabeth to Islandbridge last year have all helped to create a new atmosphere. How we commemorate should build on that,” he said.

We need “to affirm that what was done in the past – whatever it was – was not done in our name or in the name of this generation”, he said.