A memorial to Irishmen who died in Flanders has been inaugurated in a Peace Garden in Dublin.
It is thought more than 49,000 Irish died in the conflict, many of whom are buried in Flanders, in northern Belgium.
Dublin Lord Mayor Nial Ring and Jan Peumans, speaker of the parliament of Flanders, presided over a ceremony which saw the memorial dedicated to all those from the island of Ireland who died in Flanders Fields during the First World War.
During the ceremony, soil from Flanders was buried with soil from the four provinces of Ireland, and placed within a circle of Leinster granite which reflects the circular design in the roof of the Menin Gate in Ypres.
Min @HMcEntee representing the Government at the opening of the Flanders Fields Memorial at St Patrick’s Cathedral.
The memorial brings together soil from the resting place of Irish WW1 soldiers with earth from the four provinces of their homeland. pic.twitter.com/ATcmQfLHhj— Irish Foreign Ministry (@dfatirl) April 30, 2019
Speaking at the ceremony, the Dublin Lord Mayor hailed the people of Flanders who work hard to commemorate all those who died in their fields.
“This memorial will serve as a reminder of our long-standing friendship with Flanders and, along with the Tree of Life sculpture, will stand as focal points in the Peace Garden when it officially re-opens in the coming weeks,” he said.
Nic Van der Marliere, general representative of the government of Flanders to Ireland, said there was a contemporary message in the memorial, noting that governments now take some rights and freedoms for granted.
“The human price paid to safeguard peace and human rights and the message of tolerance and reconciliation are an essential part of remembrance for Flanders,” he said.
“The First World War may be a hundred years behind us, but the inalienability of the rights of all human beings, respect for freedom and democracy, are as relevant today as they were then.
“Maybe more so, because today too many people and countries take them too much for granted.
“Flanders will always show its profound gratitude for the extraordinary generosity and support of the Irish people in its hour of need.
“The Flanders Fields Memorial, uniting soil from Flanders and the four provinces of Ireland, will be an eternal testimony to our great and unwavering friendship.”
In future, the memorial will be covered with a grass sward and engraved with poetry by Francis Ledwidge, a Co Meath-born poet and soldier, who died in 1917 at the battle of Passchendaele.
Around the memorial, benches of Belgian blue stone have been engraved with the crests of Leinster, Munster, Ulster and Connacht, Ireland’s four provinces.
About 210,000 Irishmen served in the British forces during the First World War, as in 1914 the island of Ireland was still part of the United Kingdom.
However, due to the heightened political tensions in Ireland between nationalist and unionist groups, the service of Irishmen during the conflict had been somewhat disregarded.
Successive Irish governments have sought to right historical wrongs in the last five years, culminating in a number of centenary ceremonies this year.
Speaking at the ceremony, Minister for European Affairs Helen McEntee noted: “In some respects, Ireland’s journey of First World War remembrance during this decade of centenaries began with taoiseach Enda Kenny’s tour of Flanders with prime minister David Cameron in 2013.
“This commitment to remembrance has continued.
“Our embassy in Brussels, alongside representatives of the defence forces, attended more than 30 commemorative ceremonies throughout Belgium during last November’s Armistice weekend marking the centenary of the war’s end.”
- Press Association