Tag Archives: Armistice Day

In Rememberance

In 2014, on the 100th Anniversary of the start of World War 1 I went to see the fantastic poppy installation at the Tower of London. The imagery was very powerful and has remained with me ever since. It took a considerable length of time to see all 888,246 of these poppies, each one representing a life lost. The sheer scale of it, the blood-redness of it made a huge impression on me and anyone who saw it.

One of the poppies from that installation has been framed and hangs in my home. 

In memory of those who never came home from that awful conflict, especially those from my own parish of Mevagh in County Donegal and the countless others who suffered horrendous injuries from which they never recovered.

 

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THE PITY OF WAR!

 

The original post can be seen here Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red

 

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Filed under Ireland, Irish at War, Irish History

One Poppy

Ceramic poppy from Blood Swept Lands and Seas of RedJust a year ago I visited the art installation at the Tower of London which commemorated the centenary of the beginning of the First World War. The installation Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red was made of ceramic poppies, one for each of the 888,246 men who perished in the British Army at that time. Tens of thousands of those who died were Irishmen.

Contrary to popular belief, Armistice Day continued to be observed in Ireland in the years and decades after the 1916 Rising. In 1926 for example an estimated 40,000 people turned out in Dublin in remembrance of fallen relatives and friends.

An estimated 40,000 attend Armistice Day commemorations in Dublin 1926

An estimated 40,000 attend Armistice Day commemorations in Dublin 1926

I was among the lucky ones who got to buy one of the ceramic poppies from the Tower of  London installation. It is now beautifully framed  and  stands in sorrowful remembrance of the pity of war.

One framed Poppy

One framed Poppy

 

 

Further details and more photos of the installation at The Tower of London in 2014 can be seen in my post Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red.

Irish Poppy Pin

Irish Poppy Pin

 

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Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red

I have just returned from a short trip to London, England,where we  lived for almost two decades before returning to Ireland. London is a city that I love and I look forward to each return visit. This year marks the centenary of the start of the First World War which has been commemorated in the most astonishing way at the historic Tower of London.

image

The ‘Weeping Window’ the source of the wave of poppies that will fill the moat

Some decades ago, when I worked  in the banking area in the City of London, summer lunchtime would be spent sitting on the grass looking down at the Tower and enjoying the sunshine. We happily munched on our ham and mustard  or cheese and pickle sandwiches while enjoying the historic view and discussing the gruesome executions that took place just yards from where we dined! The Tower itself dates back to the 11th century, and is one of London’s most visited tourist attractions, housing the Crown Jewels, and protected by the colourful Beefeater Guards and those fearsome Ravens!

My visit this week was very poignant as I revisited the area I know so well, for the entire scene has been transformed to mark the centenary of the First World War. Ceramic Artist Paul Cummins has created  888,246 poppies and stage designer Tom Piper planned the layout of this art installation, Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red. Beautifully conceived with a flow of poppies coming from a ‘weeping window’ on the tower, and it has been slowly spreading in a wave, a river of  poppies. Planting of the poppies(on wire stems) by volunteers began in July and has continued each day since then. At 11 am on 11 November the last poppy will be planted.
888,246 is the number of British army  fatalities in World War 1. Tens of thousands of Irish men volunteered (we did not have conscription in Ireland) to serve in this army, for we were then part of Britain and tens of thousands of Irish men died.  Up to 40,000 (the exact number is not definitively known) of these poppies represent Irish men – my countrymen – fathers, brothers, sons, cousins, uncles, nephews, who never came home from that war. They were from every County in Ireland from Donegal to Cork, from Dublin to Galway, from Sligo to Waterford to Kerry. Fathers, brothers, sons, cousins, uncles, nephews who died horrible deaths in muck filled trenches – often blown to bits, blasted to smithereens, dismembered, disembowelled, decapitated; many lay screaming in their last agony, many lay crying for their mothers or their wives in excruciating pain as the life drained from them; many gasped for air as their mustard gassed lungs turned into acid that burned them alive on the inside; many lay in mud filled trenches,with limbs missing and slowly bled to death, perhaps buried under dead comrades; many were vaporized and no trace of them was ever found.
For each of these, and those from whatever country that populated the British Military forces Scotland, England,Wales,Ireland, India,New Zealand, Australia, Canada and more,- whether obliterated  or who died a slow tortuous death – a poppy has been planted in the great moat of this iconic palace.
4 million people will visit to see them and yesterday I was one of them.  An astonishing number of people wept as they realized that each one represents a human being. The silence from such a vast crowd was very surprising.
These are the snaps of my visit in both daylight and after dark. I add my silence to theirs.

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Remembering

Today, Remembrance Sunday, the Irish Taoiseach (Prime Minister) and Tánaiste (Deputy Prime Minister) attended Remembrance services in Northern Ireland for the first time. Today too,  the President of Ireland, Michael D Higgins will attend the annual commemoration of the War Dead at St Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin.

Many ‘ordinary’ people of Ireland are passionate about NOT commemorating this day, in some cases probably because of a lack of understanding of the social conditions at the time,that compelled Irish men and boys in their tens of thousands to go to war.  It is true that after the conflict, many families  were ashamed of relatives returning from the War, but as this article in yesterday’s Irish Times demonstrates, things are changing. Those who had been ‘airbrushed’ out of Irish family history are now being honoured and remembered with pride.

The wearing of a Poppy in Ireland remains controversial in 2012 as demonstrated by this article from The Irish Independent on the reaction to a Poppy wearer in the streets of Dublin .  The reaction of the Chelsea Football supporter in this item is interesting  – sadly he probably verbalized what many think in private.   Why can we not treat the wearing of a Poppy as a memory of men  who died in awful circumstances, and not as a symbol of British Imperialism?

I recently discovered the website of the Limerick Branch of the Royal British Legion on which they have displayed a new Irish Poppy badge – a poppy overlaid on a shamrock. It’s a truly beautiful emblem and having worn it for the past few days myself, it has elicited a very positive response. I have no doubt that it will become a popular emblem for those who wish to commemorate the sacrifices of people from this island who put themselves in harm’s way in the most horrific circumstances. They deserve to be remembered.

The badge can be ordered here

Last year I attended a Conference in Ennis that resulted in the following  blog post – which I reprint here in tribute and in memory of all those who died .

A Poppy for Claremen,Munstermen and Irishmen

On Saturday October 1st 2011 at the Clare Roots Genealogy and Family History Conference, historian Liam Curran delivered what was to me a fascinating presentation on ‘The Irish Soldier in the British Army in the First World War’. Liam presented an account of the horrors of war that featured real people, including members of his own family, who lived and loved not far from where I now live; real people who died in the most horrific of circumstances  – sons, brothers, uncles, fathers.

During that presentation we saw a very famous painting entitled ‘The Last Absolution of the Munsters’ by the war artist, Matania.

 

On Saturday evening the 8th May 1915, prior to the battle in the Aubers Ridge area, the 2nd Battalion Royal Munster Fusiliers marched through Rue du Bois, about one mile out from the town of Neuve Chapelle in Belgium. The Battalion halted near a wayside shrine. Moving off the road they formed up in their respective Companies, ‘A’, ‘B’, ‘C’ and ‘D’. In front of each Company was a green flag with the Irish Harp and word “Munster” embroidered on it’

Most if not all the men depicted here are from Munster. The priest on horseback who gave a general absolution to these men was Francis Gleeson, one of 13 children from Templemore, Co Tipperary. On the extreme right is Regimental Sergeant Major John Ring born in Bandon. Also here are many men from Clare. The second mounted figure is 40-year old Colonel Victor Rickard, husband of Louise Moore from Mitchelstown, Co. Cork, whose father founded the  Cork Historical and Archaeological Society and was a Protestant Home Ruler. She herself wrote articles for the Cork Examiner Newspaper.

At dawn on 9th May, just hours  after the general absolution, these Irish men came out of their trenches. Within hours, 151 of them lay dead, including the Commanding Officer Rickard, and 16 men from Clare.

Just one of a number of Irish Regiments, the Munster Fusiliers consisted in the main of Munster men – mainly from Clare, Kerry, Cork and Tipperary. They fought and died in their hundreds in various areas of conflict during their long history including Afghanistan 1839,  Burma 1852,  The Crimea, the Boer War. It is reckoned that about a quarter of a million Irish men were involved in the First World War. They endured the horror of the killing fields of the Western Front, often cold and often hungry, surrounded by the stench of death, hearing the screams of the dying, with rats eating their feet. They were slaughtered, drowned and maimed in Gallipoli and in many places whose names they could not pronounce.

Text from Fr Gleeson’s Diary entry 10 May 1915 as inscribed at the Messines Irish Peace Park.

Growing up and educated in Ireland in the 1960s, I was never aware of the tens of thousands of our countrymen who fought and died in horrific conditions in many theatres of war down the centuries. These people had effectively been wiped from the history that we were taught in schools, wiped from our national memory, wiped from our very DNA.

The truth is that most were volunteers.  The truth is that, fired up by calls by Irish Nationalists like John Redmond, who claimed that ‘Ireland’s highest interests’ lay ‘in the speedy and overwhelming victory of England and the Allies’ they volunteered in their droves; the truth is that many went because they needed the money for their families; the truth is that many went because they belonged to large families with low-income and it would be one less mouth to feed. Undoubtedly some also went in search of adventure and perhaps also to escape issues at home.

The First World War was the war in which most Irish lives were lost and in which the Irish performed amazing acts of courage and bravery. However, when the survivors returned they were shunned and met with hostility and even physical violence. The honour with which they had departed was in stark contrast to the changed circumstances when they returned. Ireland had staged an uprising against British rule at Easter 1916 and the Ireland to which they returned was one with a new sense of nationalism and a different set of values.

We in Ireland have come a long way in redressing the airbrushing of our past. President Mary Robinson was the first Irish President to wear a poppy on November 11th each year and President McAleese has kept up her predecessor’s practice of attending the remembrance Sunday services in St Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin.  President Mary McAleese also stood shoulder to shoulder with the Queen of England at the opening of the Island of Ireland Peace Park in Mesen (Messines) Belgium on 11 November 1998. We still, however, have a way to go.

Poppy Field on the Somme. Picture from the BBC.

In Flanders Fields – the iconic poem by John McCrae, MD, (1872 – 1918)  Canadian Army.

If ye break faith  with us who die,

We shall not sleep, though poppies grow in Flanders fields’

I will not break faith and will proudly wear a red poppy on 11 November 2011 to honour all Claremen, all Munster men, all Irishmen who made the ultimate sacrifice.

Epilogue

Fr. Gleeson volunteered for a second time and returned to parish work in Dublin where he died in 1959. He is buried in Castlelough, Co Tipperary.

Sgt Major John Ring served for 5 years in France and repeatedly refused promotion to stay with his battalion. He retired to Limerick  and died in 1960. He is buried in Mount St Lawrence Cemetery.

References

Royal Munster Fusiliers Association

Royal Munster Fusiliers

http://www.limerickcity.ie/media/Media,3979,en.pdf

Liam Curran’s lecture – which also included an account of the Munsters in Gallipoli, notably those who landed from the steamer ‘River Clyde’ – is available on DVD from Clare Roots here

 

 

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Filed under Family History, Ireland, Irish Culture, Irish History, Living in Ireland, Social History Ireland