President Higgins to attend first World War commemoration in Liège

Higgins will join leaders from some of the key powers in the war, including German president Joachim Gauck, French president Hollande, and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge representing Britain

President Michael D Higgins is to attend the first major multinational commemoration event marking the outbreak of the first World War on August 4th in Belgium.

The President will join heads of state from around the world at the ceremony in the Belgian city of Liège, which was one of the first to fall to German troops in the opening weeks of the war.

The date of August 4th – the day on which Britain declared war on Germany in 1914 – is generally regarded as the official starting date of the first World War, although Germany had declared war on Russia three days earlier.

On the morning of August 4th, German troops crossed into Belgium, invading Liège, 50km from the German border.

The move, which had been threatened since the assassination of the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne in Sarajevo six weeks earlier, directly prompted Britain’s entry into the war.

Key powers

President Higgins will join leaders from some of the key powers involved in the war, including German president

Joachim Gauck

, French president François Hollande, and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, who will represent Britain at the ceremonial events.

The siege of Liège marked the first battle of the war as Belgian forces fought off the Germans in the fort city on the river Meuse.

A separate ceremony is scheduled that afternoon in the Belgian town of Mons, south of Brussels.

It was here that allied forces – including many Irish soldiers – suffered a heavy defeat in the early weeks of the war as German troops swept westwards.

A ceremony will take place on the afternoon of August 4th at St Symphorien cemetery in Mons, the only first World War graveyard that honours the fallen from both sides of the conflict.

Members of the Royal Irish Regiment are some of the 230 commonwealth casualties buried there.

Preparations to mark the centenary of the outbreak of the war are under way across Europe and further afield.

On June 26th, two days before the centenary of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, EU leaders will attend a commemorative event and dinner in Ypres in northwest Belgium, the site of some of the bloodiest battles of the war.

A commemorative event will also take place in Sarajevo on Saturday, June 28th, which includes a memorial concert by the Vienna Philharmonic.

Irish peace park

Following a joint visit by Taoiseach Enda Kenny and British prime minister

David Cameron

to the Irish peace park in Messines in December, the Irish Embassy in Belgium is planning a series of commemorative and cultural events to mark the centenary.

This is likely to culminate in the commemoration in summer 2017 of the centenary of the battle of Messines, in which Irish troops from the 16th (Irish) division fought alongside troops from the 36th (Ulster) division against German forces.

Approximately 200,000 Irish men are believed to have fought in the first World War.