We must learn from our past - Remembrance Day

TAOISEACH Enda Kenny and Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan represented the Republic yesterday at Remembrance Sunday events in Northern Ireland.

We must learn from our past - Remembrance Day

Mr Kenny laid a wreath at the War Memorial in Enniskillen before attending a service in Saint Macartin’s Cathedral while Mr Flanagan placed a laurel wreath at the Cenotaph in Belfast. Their presence at such events in the North would have been unthinkable a few years ago and there are still some Irish people who find their attendance disturbing and even offensive. Similarly, the presence of President Higgins yesterday at St Patrick’s Cathedral for a Remembrance Day service.

But those who cannot find the grace to honour our fellow nationals who died in both world wars should remember that more than 35,000 Irishmen in British uniform were slaughtered in the Great War alone.

Thousands more who fought for the Allies died in the Second World War and we, as nation, have not even begun to recognise their sacrifice.

The naysayers should also be aware that in the immediate aftermath of the War of Independence tens of thousands of ordinary Irish citizens would gather annually to remember those who fell in the Great War. On Armistice Day in 1926, more than 40,000 gathered at the Wellington obelisk in Phoenix Park, among them many republicans and even revolutionaries.

There is also a broader lesson to be learnt from remembering past sacrifices without in any way glorifying war. It makes us realise the horror of conflict, the scale of the slaughter in both world wars, and galvanises us into ensuring that peace and liberty is preserved for this and future generations.

Most people born in Europe from the mid-1940s on will have been blessed to have emerged from the womb during a time of relative peace. They are the first generation in more than 100 years not to have lived during a time of global conflict. The European Union – for all its failings and idiosyncracies – has assured that at least nation against nation fighting within its borders has ceased.

But peace is not simply the absence of war, and the growing worldwide threat from Islamic State and other pan-national extremists shows that great diligence is always essential and great sacrifice is sometimes necessary to preserve it.

ISIS, with its self declared global caliphate — a single theocratic one-world government that rules in accordance with Islamic law — presents a growing global threat.

We cannot, of course, change the past but neither are we imprisoned by it or doomed to repeat it.

Instead, we can draw inspiration from the sacrifice of those long dead and, by understanding their sacrifice, maintain constant vigilance. We can also learn from the past and use it to create a truly peaceful future.

That would be a far more fitting monument to those who fell at the Somme, Galipoli, and elsewhere than the laying of wreaths at a cenotaph.

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