François Hollande: France’s gratitude to Ireland will be set in stone

‘By recalling this shared history we will rediscover purpose of the European project’

New memorial in Glasnevin Cemetery pays tribute to the soldiers who died in France. Video: Ronan McGreevy

 

The day after the terrorist attack which struck the city of Nice on July 14th, 2016, Ireland immediately expressed its solidarity with my country, France. A few days later, when I visited Dublin, Taoiseach Enda Kenny reiterated to me this message of friendship. In the face of the barbarity that targeted us, the strength of our democracies lies in being able to unite to defend the values that bring us together: freedom, tolerance and respect for human dignity. That is why we reaffirmed then, together, the need for a genuinely European policy to combat the global threat of terrorism.

France has been especially touched by the expressions of support Ireland has sent it during the difficult times it has undergone in the past two years because of terrorism. The relationship between our two countries is not only an economic, scientific and cultural relationship, it is first and foremost the profound relationship between two peoples united by common reference points and by a shared history of struggles and sacrifices which today forms the unshakeable foundation of their friendship.

Since 2014, the Great War centenary has provided us with an opportunity to revisit one of the crucial moments in that relationship, when more than 200,000 Irish combatants from all over the world enlisted in the Great War and fought alongside French soldiers for the same cause. Tribute has been paid to them in major commemorations in France, especially this year, 2016, the centenary of the Battle of the Somme.

New impetus

The public success of these events shows that this memory lives on. But in order for it to endure across generations, it must be kept alive. This is why our two countries have decided this year to give new impetus to their co-operation on remembrance.

This is the purpose of the agreement on shared memory that will be signed this Sunday, November 13th, during the visit to Dublin by the French minister of state for veterans and remembrance, Jean-Marc Todeschini. The agreement gives France and Ireland new resources and a fresh determination to pass on to the younger generations the memory of the battles our two peoples waged together, so that this memory will never die.

To give it the strength to endure over time, it was also necessary to give this memory a place, a monument where France’s gratitude to Ireland would be set in stone. This will be accomplished on Sunday with the inauguration by the Minister for Heritage Heather Humphreys of the memorial at Glasnevin Cemetery that France is offering Ireland, as a reminder of this moment.

The work was commissioned from the Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris. It is a creation by the sculptor Patrice Alexandre and is the result of an artistic effort of remembrance by young students who became, for the occasion, channels of memory between France and Ireland, in keeping with Marshal Foch’s desire that “the generations that come after us shall never forget the heroic dead of Ireland” in the Great War. And because this solidarity between our peoples has been steadfast, the monument also honours those Irish men and women who mobilised alongside France both in 1870-1871 and in 1939-1945.

As Ireland prepares to experience its day of remembrance, today – November 11th – is the day France pays its respects to all the soldiers who have died for it since the Great War. It is an opportunity for each of us to think of all the combatants who crossed the oceans in centuries past to fight on French soil, many of whom never returned.

By also awarding the Légion d’Honneur to the Irish veterans who helped defend and liberate France during the second World War, I wanted to express the gratitude of the French people.

By recalling this shared history of the blood we shed together, we will help others understand the purpose of the joint commitment we French and Irish have to the Middle East and Africa, to people under threat, so that peace, freedom and human rights triumph.

Exceptional sacrifices

Finally, by remembering the exceptional sacrifices of those young people cut down by a terrible war, we will rediscover the purpose of the European project, since it was in the aftermath of the Great War that the first seeds of a united Europe were sown, as a great act of hope. This hope continued to drive the founding fathers of the European enterprise after 1945, and they gave it concrete expression through institutions that brought Europe unprecedented peace and prosperity.

It is this hope we must keep alive more than ever today, so that Europe goes on delivering, for our children as it has done for us and our ancestors, its promise of peace and personal fulfilment.

A hundred years ago, the young people of France and Ireland fought alongside one another in muddy trenches to defend their ideals. Today, it is Europe that is calling on them. A Europe which, through their courage, generosity and faith in the future, the young people of France and Ireland will be able to make more democratic and more mutually supportive, furthering progress more than ever. This is the message of November 11th. It is what lies behind the shared memory of France and Ireland.

François Hollande is president of the French Republic

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