Gardaí confirmed they are trawling CCTV footage in the city centre to help trace the culprit who struck after wreaths had been placed at the memorial in Grand Parade.
Gerry White, a company quartermaster sergeant in the Irish Army and military historian, said he was saddened by the act. Mr White is chairman of the Western Front Association, members of which laid wreaths at the memorial along with representatives from the Leinster Regiment Association and Royal Munster Fusiliers Association.
The wreaths were placed at 7.30am on July 1, to mark the exact time 100 years earlier that British and Irish soldiers went over the top to attack the German positions in the Somme.
Those taking part in the ceremony also blew whistles which would have been the signal at the time to attack.
Mr White said the memorial was not erected by the British Legion, as many people may believe.
“It was built by the Cork Independent Ex-Servicemen’s Club. They were Catholic working class nationalists and it was unveiled on St Patrick’s Day, 1925.”
There are just 150 names on the memorial, which is a lot less than the number of men from Cork City and county who lost their lives in the war. Historians estimate nearly 4,000 soldiers from the Cork area died in the supposed “war to end all wars”. Mr White said the groups which laid the wreaths were very upset at what happened because of the “great sacrifice” of the thousands of Irishmen who lost their lives in the First World War.
“I find it extremely sad and unfortunate that somebody removed the wreaths which were laid to remember those who died and the unimaginable loss felt as a result by so many Cork families.
“The wreaths were not laid to glorify war. They were laid merely as an act of remembrance. People should remember that the loss of life in World War One was the greatest tragedy to hit Cork since The Famine.”
Billy MacGill, a local photographer who has attended several commemorations at the memorial in recent years, urged anyone with information to contact gardaí about the person or persons who removed the wreaths. “Over the years, I have read many war poems at the commemoration. It is very sad to see what happened after the latest commemoration. For many of those who joined up, the dream was the war would be over at Christmas and they were fighting so those small nations, such as Ireland, would be free,” he said.
A senior garda spokesman said they were following a number of lines of inquiry and were examining local CCTV footage. He appealed for anyone with information to contact Anglesea St Garda Station at 021 452 2000.