AS America tears itself apart again, the fact that Alberta Martin, one of the last known Confederate war widows, died as recently as 2004 and that Gertrude Janeway, the last known widow of a Union veteran, died just a year earlier, reconfirms William Faulkner’s perceptive line: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

The same proximity to the past, emotional and actual, is just as sharp in Ireland. Though it’s just four years short of a century since our War of Independence ended, 66 women received State pension payments last year because they are widows of veterans of that war. Their average age was 92 and only around 50 women will collect the payment this year. The last War of Independence veteran, Lieutenant Colonel Sean Clancy, died in 2006, aged 105.

Sometimes we may be foolish enough to imagine lists of names and dates like these are irrelevant in our world but if we better appreciated the reality, achievement, and pain behind them, a great number of the tragedies afflicting humanity might be averted. Reason enough to reflect on them.


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