Pro-Cathedral service remembers Irish dead in WW1

First time that a Catholic commemoration service held in the church since 1972

The Irish men who died in the first World War should be remembered as having “fought with great courage in the defence of an ideal”, the Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin has said.

Archbishop Martin gave a homily today at a memorial mass for the Irishmen who died in the war, the first time such a service has happened at the Pro-Cathedral since 1972. All other such commemorations have been held in St Patrick's Cathedral.

Archbishop Martin said he had an uncle who went away to London to join the British army and fought in the war. He lost an eye and never talked about it afterwards.

“The horror he witnessed was obviously something which deeply affected him as a person for the rest of his life,” the Archbishop recalled.


“We remember the idealism and the valour and the courage of those who served in that war. We remember, in a particular way, the thousands of young Irish men who fought and we remember especially those who fell in the pursuit of an ideal.”

Archbishop Martin spoke about the diary of Fr Francis Gleeson, a priest in the Archdiocese of Dublin, who was a chaplain to the Royal Munster Fusiliers. The diary will go on display later this year.

“ It is a diary which captures in a unique way the bravery of the soldiers he ministered to and what their faith meant to them. It is also a diary which captures the horrors of war,” he said.

“Father Gleeson knew the horrors of war. The young soldiers caught up in war were men and women of courage and valour and idealism. The ideals they defended were noble ideas, but war itself is always horrible and leaves all those who become caught up in war marked for life by the inhuman experiences they endured.”

Archbishop Martin said Pope Benedict XV had called on Catholics to stop the war in 1917 describing it in graphic terms as "un inutile strage", "a useless carnage".

“That was a phrase which was as far as one could possibly imagine in those days from being ‘politically correct language’. Many Catholics on all sides were scandalised. Senior Catholic intellectuals responded to the Pope saying: ‘we do not want your peace’,” the Archbishop said.

He also lamented the continuing conflicts in the Middle East and Ukraine.

“The past month of July will be remembered as one of the most striking months of blood in recent years. July is a month we cannot be proud of.”

The service was attended by Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan, who said afterwards that it was "most regrettable" that the Irish war dead were "airbrushed out of history".

The Royal British Legion president in the Republic of Ireland David O'Morchoe said the mass in the Pro-Cathedral was significant because it was the first time since the Troubles escalated in 1972 that it was held in the principal Catholic Church in Dublin.

His father was part of the 10th (Irish) Division which fought in Salonika and the Middle East. Two of his uncles also joined up.

“People who have had relatives in the war are now owning up to it where previously hidden it. The atmosphere in the country forced them to hide it,” he said.

“For whatever reason the men who fought did an honourable thing in their own minds.”

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy is a news reporter with The Irish Times