Ireland’s war dead and those killed on UN service remembered in the rain

‘In particular we remember those who died in the War of Independence and subsequent conflict on this island’, said Taoiseach

President Michael D Higgins inspecting the 27 Infantry Battalion at Collins Barracks, Dublin, during the National Day of Commemoration. Photograph: Tom Honan

President Michael D Higgins inspecting the 27 Infantry Battalion at Collins Barracks, Dublin, during the National Day of Commemoration. Photograph: Tom Honan

 

It rained and rained, and the gulls shrieked throughout, both disturbing the solemnity to such a degree that when Dr Hemant Kumar intoned his pre-prepared Hindu prayer it had more immediate resonance: “may the heavens be at peace, may the sky be at peace...peace be to the water” .

The downpour eased later towards the end of ceremonies for the National Day of Commemoration, which concluded with a full stop superbly punctuated by a fly-past of three Air Corps aircraft on the very last note of the National Anthem.

Attendance, at the National Museum, included President Michael D Higgins, members of the Council of State, Taoiseach Micheál Martin, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar, Green Party leader Eamon Ryan, members of the Government, Sinn Féin president Mary Lou McDonald, Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill, Lord Mayor of Dublin Alison Gilliland, and members of the diplomatic corps.

Noting that the event was in remembrance of “all those Irishmen and Irishwomen who died in past wars or on service with the United Nations”, the Taoiseach added a new element this year. In a brief introductory address he said: “on this day we recall the truce which came into effect 100 years ago. In particular we remember those who died in the War of Independence and subsequent conflict on this island.”

The timing was almost exact. Sunday’s commemoration began at 11am; the truce began at midday on July 11th, 1921.

Men of the cloth

Prayers and reflections were delivered by men of the cloth representing people of diverse faiths and a woman representing those of none.

Imam Hussein Halawa called on “Allah, the Mighty, the Lord, to bless our country, Ireland”, and was followed by Rabbi Zalman Lent, the Church of Ireland Archbishop of Dublin Michael Jackson, the president of the Methodist Church in Ireland Rev Dr Sahr Yambasu, and the Catholic Archbishop of Dublin Dermot Farrell, before the first musical interlude.

Soprano Rachel Croash, accompanied by the Military Band, sang the Cardinal St John Henry Newman hymn Lead Kindly Light.

Further prayers were led by the Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, Rev Dr David Bruce, who read from John’s Gospel without reference to the commemoration or who was being remembered. Then Fr Tom Carroll of the Greek Orthodox Church prayed for “all those who have laid down their lives in the service of their country, or in the service of humanity” and concluded with the Ár nAthair (Our Father) as Gaelige.

All Christian leaders then joined together in a common prayer before Rachel Croash and the Military Band performed the hymn An tAiséirí.

As the rain dripped down his face Rev Myozan Kodo Kilroy rendered his Buddhist prayer with the calm presence of the Galway man he is, familiar with such circumstance.

Dr Hemant Kumar read from the Hindu Bhagavad Gita and Veda, before piper Corporal Anthony Kelly performed Limerick’s Lament, accompanied by the Military Band.

Shona Weymes of the Humanist Association of Ireland then also remembered “all those who have lost their lives as a result of Covid” as “we also pay tribute to those who fought and sacrificed with courage and honour in the War of Independence.”

President Michael D Higgins laying a wreath. Photograph: Tom Honan
President Michael D Higgins laying a wreath. Photograph: Tom Honan

Minute’s silence

The Taoiseach then invited President Higgins, in honour of all Irish people who had died in past wars or on UN service, to lay a wreath. He did so, followed by a minute’s silence which concluded with the firing of a cannon, the Last Post and raising of the Tricolour.

Attending his last National Day of Commemoration as Defence Forces chief-of-staff, Vice Admiral Mark Mellett, who retires in September, described the men and women he led as “the bedrock of our sovereignty”.

“We, along with the gardaí, provide a framework for the institutions of civil society, and the institutions of civil society are really about human rights.”

He said people were free where such institutions function and the vulnerable were protected. “We guarantee that sovereignty so that good stuff can happen, but it doesn’t come without a price.”

He remembered “over the last 100 years, the loyalty, the dedication and commitment of the women and men of the Defence Forces. We remember on this day too the 87 men of our Defence Forces who died in the cause of peace in many challenging theatres.”

He and Minister for Defence Simon Coveney were just back from Lebanon where “the situation is very fragile, but they have had many years of peace largely because of our Defence Forces. They have built an extraordinary relationship with the local people,” he said.