War memorial project to pay tribute to Catholic soldiers

 

Efforts of those soldiers who died in the first World War are being recognised in Derry, writes Amel Brahmi.

THE SDLP mayor of Derry, Gerard Diver, has paid tribute to a project aimed at ensuring that the hundreds of Catholics and nationalists who died in the first World War are commemorated with the same respect as the Derry unionists and Protestants who died.

Mr Diver has handed over to historian Trevor Temple, of the Diamond War Memorial Project, memorabilia about his grand-uncle, John James, who fought and died in the war.

Mr Diver, whose grandfather William also fought in the war, said he was happy that what was a virtual taboo about acknowledging that nationalists fought in the war was now being confronted.

He added that he was happy that the sacrifices of the Catholic as well as the Protestant soldiers were at last being recognised.

"Many people of a nationalist persuasion in Ireland North and South did not recognise the fact that their ancestors were fighting in the British army. This has been an issue that they have struggled with, or have not known how to deal with," he said.

The Diamond War Memorial Project is the brainchild of Eamon Baker. In 2002, while walking past the memorial, Mr Baker was struck with an idea: "I looked at the names and I thought people who walk past this monument everyday should know the stories behind each of these names. I wanted to humanise these stories," he said.

"It was only through the research that we realised nearly half of them were Catholics," he said. Almost half of these soldiers - 48 per cent - were Catholics, when the probable perception was that they were Protestant or unionist. The project's aim is to investigate the lives of these Catholics and to tell their stories in print and on the internet.

A number of the Derry soldiers died at Loos in France. John James Diver was one of them. His brother, William, survived and went on to fight in the second World War. He also survived that war, although he ended up as a prisoner of war in Germany.

Barney Donaghey, a popular footballer from Derry at the time, fought at the Somme as a member of the 1st Inniskillings.

He was seriously wounded in the head by shrapnel and was transported to a hospital in Tanta, Egypt. There, he wrote a letter to his relatives saying he was recovering. He died of his injuries, however, at the age of 34. Donaghey had played for the Derry Celtic, Belfast Celtic, Glentoran, Hibernian, and Manchester United. He also played at an international level in the Irish team against Scotland at the Balmoral Showgrounds in 1902. Hugh McLaughlin, great-uncle of Rev Stephen McLaughlin, parish priest of St Mary's Church in Creggan in Derry, also died nearby at Loos-en-Gohelle in June 1916.

Fr McLaughlin said the Troubles made many people uncomfortable about the fact that their sons or brothers had fought in the British army.

"I am glad that their sacrifice is now seen as shared by both communities," he added.

Mr Temple said one of the reasons why the project was successful was the changing political climate in Northern Ireland.

"The success of the project is also due to the fact that an equal number of people died from both communities. There is a shared symbolism about the monument," he added.

The Diamond War Memorial Project is competing in a British National Lottery competition for good causes. The project is currently in the semi-final with nine others from the UK. The three projects that have collected the most votes from the public will go through to the final, where the first prize is £2,000.

• Votes for the project can be placed at: www.lotterygoodcauses.org.uk/awards. Voting closes July 4th. The project website is: www.diamondwarmemorial.com