Finally, our war heroes gain respect

Fitting tributes

Nothing could be more fitting than yesterday’s laying of a wreath at the Cenotaph in London by Ireland’s ambassador to Britain. When Dan Mulhall stepped forward, it was the first such gesture since 1946 on behalf of the Irish people in remembrance of those who died in two World Wars.

It was entirely appropriate that later conflicts were also remembered, including the atrocities of the North where, for the first time, both the Taoiseach and Tánaiste attended remembrance ceremonies, Enda Kenny at Enniskillen and Joan Burton at St Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin, where the war dead have been recalled each year since 1919.

It was all a far cry from the shoddy treatment meted out to those who had valiantly fought against the Nazis in the cause of peace in Europe only to find themselves cruelly ostracised when they returned home to Ireland. To our everlasting shame, most of those who survived were sent to Coventry by the State and shunned by their neighbours who either feared or, for whatever reason, refused to speak to them as society came under the insidious influence of the politicians and the machinery of officialdom.

Unfortunately, it has taken many decades for the Republic to finally forgive its long forgotten war heroes. The events that took place yesterday will be welcomed by future generations of right-thinking people as a further sign of our growing maturity. They represent the closer and increasingly warm newfound relationship between Ireland and Britain at the highest level.

As the Taoiseach observed, there is a certain poignancy about the tragedy of Enniskillen, where he laid a wreath at the War Memorial recalling the deaths of 12 people killed by an IRA bomb in 1987. On a larger but equally moving canvas, in laying a wreath alongside that of Queen Elizabeth, Mr Mulhall has paid tribute to the thousands who fought and died in the carnage of the First World War.

It is worth quoting the words of Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan, who took part in the ceremonies at the Cenotaph at Belfast City Hall. He emphasised that it provides a chance for further reconciliation, more time for reflection on moments of shared and divided history and for remembrance of a war which has claimed more Irish lives than any other conflict.

Yet another event that fully deserved to be universally remembered over the weekend was the fall of the Berlin Wall 25 years ago. A barrier which had rent the German people, East and West, in the Cold War era, its demolition is a stark reminder of the wall that still divides the people of North and South Korea. While the earthquake of the reunion effectively slowed pace of the West German economic engine room at the heart of Europe, its significance in terms of global and European peace and co-operation, can never be exaggerated.

As succinctly put by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, its fall has shown the world that dreams can come true. But it would be foolhardy to ignore the warning of former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev last night that the world is on the brink of a new Cold War.


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