Remembrance Sunday - Let us not forget our war dead

The Taoiseach Enda Kenny and the Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore attended Remembrance Sunday events in Northern Ireland yesterday.

Remembrance Sunday - Let us not forget our war dead

Mr Gilmore participated in ceremonies at Belfast’s Cenotaph while the Taoiseach laid a wreath at the war memorial in Enniskillen, scene of one of the worst massacres of civilians by the IRA in 1987.

Their participation in these events was important in a number of ways. In the first instance, it was a meaningful expression of solidarity with those who suffered during 30 years of conflict in Northern Ireland. Their presence at memorial ceremonies that have deep meaning for the North’s majority population also serves as a symbol of respect for and momentary deference to Ireland’s British heritage, something that would have been unthinkable not that long ago.

But their separate journeys also had practical application as the Government is anxious to develop closer links with politicians of all shades and, in particular, with the Northern Ireland executive.

This is hugely important as what is often forgotten is the word “process” in the Northern Ireland Peace Process. Three decades of bloodshed has left its mark on this island. There are still huge divisions, physically, mentally and emotionally, and the re-emergence of armed Republican dissidents is a brutal reminder of the fragility of peace. As any military veteran of conflict will tell you, war is often far too easy while peace is a dreary drip-feed of constant vigilance.

Yet, for both men, the laying of wreaths and the minute’s silence that followed were also moments of quiet contemplation as they united with political leaders in the North to pay tribute to the tens of thousands of Irishmen who sacrificed their lives on foreign fields.

Similar tributes on Remembrance Sunday took place throughout the world and more will be made today to mark Armistice Day. It is exactly 95 years since the guns fell silent on the Western Front — as the clock struck the 11th hour, on the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918.

Such ceremonies were rare in the Republic, but recent years have seen a greater recognition of the sacrifice made on our behalf. That was poignantly evident yesterday in a tribute held at the Cenotaph in Cork where a sturdy band of military and civilians braved driving rain to bow their heads to the 4,000 Corkmen who died in the slaughter of the Somme and elsewhere.

More than 50,000 Irishmen perished in the Great War in the name of Ireland. Thousands more died in the Second World War wearing Allied uniforms. Those who perished in the trenches were twice cursed — victims of a war against aggression in Europe and one waged at home for independence.

Those who fought for the Allies against the Nazis and survived were seen as traitors by a brutish Irish government and found no solace among their own communities. They were not just forgotten but collectively disremembered, their sacrifice unrecognised, their valour unvalidated, their memory all but faded.

On this day the famous stanza from the poem For The Fallen by Robert Laurence Binyon comes to mind:

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:

Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.

At the going down of the sun and in the morning

We will remember them.

Lest we forget.

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