Tag Archives: National Museum of Ireland

We are the dead, short days ago we lived…

At the 11th hour of the 11th  day of the 11th month in 1918, fighting in World War 1 officially came to an end, in accordance with the Armistice between Germany and the Allies. On the anniversary of this event, men and women who gave their lives  in conflicts are commemorated, and people all over the world wear poppies  in remembrance of them.

Irish Poppy Badge PNG (website)

The Irish Poppy Badge

The wearing of the Poppy in Ireland remains  a contentious issue, although it has become more popular  in recent years. Not so many years ago in this country, families of those who had gone to war were, often with good reason, reluctant to speak of their soldier sons, brothers, fathers, uncles.  The story of their loved ones was buried- lost and unspoken for decades. However,  there has been a gradual rehabilitation of those mostly young Irishmen who went off to fight in the British Army of World War 1,  some 35,000  of whom never came home.

The tradition of wearing the Poppy began back at the end of World War 1. A Canadian Doctor, Lt.Col John McCrae, having witnessed the death of friends and colleagues in Ypres, penned the haunting and imaginative poem, ‘In Flanders Fields’ on May 3, 1915, the day after he officiated at the burial of his best friend.

In Flanders Field - the iconic poem by

In Flanders Field – the iconic poem by John McCrae

Lt.-Col._John_McCrae_and_his_dog_Bonneau_Le_lieutenant-colonel_John_McCrae_et_son_chien_Bonneau

Lt-Col John McCrae and his dog Bonneau. Image Wikimedia Commons

John McCrae had noticed that poppies readily sprung up where the earth had been disturbed. May 1915 was a particularly warm month and it is thought that this facilitated the germination of thousands of poppies that had lain dormant in the ground until it was disturbed.  As anyone driving along motorways in Ireland can testify, poppies will readily colonize any patch of poor ground, and so it was in  the battlefields of Gallipoli, Belgium and France. Lands  devastated  and pock-marked by shelling, littered with the remains of human beings – total wastelands, described as ‘murdered nature’, by the American pilot, James McConnell who flew over Verdun – often produced blazing groups of red poppies.

Poppy Field on the Somme. Picture from the BBC.

Poppy Field on the Somme. Picture from the BBC.

Moina Belle Michael, (1869 – 1944) an American teacher,was so inspired by McCrea’s poem that  in 1918 she set about having the Flanders Field Poppy recognized as a symbol of remembrance of those who had lost their lives in  the war.  

Moina Michael Commemorative Stamp

Moina Michael Commemorative Stamp

Moina achieved her ambition and on September 29 1920, the American Legion agreed to use the Flanders Fields Memorial Poppy as a national symbol of remembrance of those who did not return from war or who returned with physical or mental scars.

Moina Michael autobiography, The Miracle Flower. Picture from Amazon.com

Moina Michael autobiography,’The Miracle Flower. The story of the Flanders Fields Memorial Poppy’ Published in 1941. Image from Amazon.com

Another remarkable woman, Madame Anna Guérin, on a visit to the USA in 1920 was inspired by the efforts of Moina Michael and saw the  potential for raising funds by making and selling paper poppies to help French orphaned children and the war torn regions of France. She founded the ‘American and French Children’s League’ through which she organized French women, children and war veterans to make artificial poppies out of cloth. Anna sent thousands of poppies to be sold in America and then brought her campaign to all the countries that took part in the war. Canada adopted the poppy symbol in 1921 and in that year Anna herself went to London  to meet Field Marshall Earl Douglas Haig, founder and head of the British Legion who agreed to adopt the poppy as a symbol of the legion and the first British fund-raising poppy appeal was held in the run up to November 11 1921.

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The Tipperary Annual Remembrance takes place each September to honour Irish fallen,in all conflicts. The inscriptions on the arch are of Irish who have died in service in the uniforms of other countries

The poppy is now recognized as a symbol of remembrance in Australia, New Zealand, the U.S., Canada, South Africa, Singapore, Thailand, Germany, Poland, Russia, France, Belgium, India, China, Ireland, Israel and Pakistan  and its symbolism has evolved from one commemorating lives lost or destroyed  in World War 1, to  one of remembrance for all those who gave their lives in all conflicts.

Notwithstanding the general acceptance of the Poppy as a universal symbol of remembrance, there are many in Ireland who see it as nothing more than an emblem of British imperialism. Just  a couple of years ago I was berated in public for wearing a poppy on my coat. ‘Are you a Brit?’ challenged  a work colleague (who happened to be wearing a Liverpool Football Club jersey and is a daily reader of an English tabloid newspaper). I have never understood how men who signed up to join the army often simply as a means of getting paid employment to help support a large family at home, became ostracised because of a ‘green’ discourse in Ireland after Independence. Nor have  I understood why that ‘green’ discourse led to families being fearful  of  honouring their lost loved ones. All down the centuries,Irish men have traditionally fought in armies and wars across the world, as evidenced in the Soldiers and Chiefs exhibition at the National Museum of Ireland.  Even in 1926, some 40,000 people gathered in Dublin to honour the dead on Armistice day. There is a magnificent  image of crowds of people gathered for the occasion in the blog of Come Here to Me. which can be seen here . This post looks at  remembering the dead  and the republican response to it. Looking back at this story now, it looks very much like the commemoration of Armistice Day was, as we say here in the mid west , ‘bate out of us’ by men with guns.

The sacrifice made by our people is part of our heritage, so why will we not join with other nations across the world  on November 11 to recognize them?  Are we not sophisticated and independent enough to do this?  In 2011 I posted about Fr Gleeson and the iconic image of him on horseback giving a last blessing to the Munster Fusiliers here just hours before they were killed and wounded in their hundreds.

Last ab

The Blessing of the Munsters by Fr Gleeson on horseback, by Mattania

Fr Gleeson kept a diary, now  in the National Museum of Ireland. that captures the horrors of war. In it he wrote

Spent all night trying to console, aid and remove the wounded.  It was ghastly to see them lying there in the cold, cheerless outhouses, on bare stretchers with no blankets to cover their freezing limbs. … Hundreds lying out in cold air all night at Windy Corner.  No ambulances coming.  They come at last. – at daylight.” (May 10th ,1915) These words are now engraved on  one of the slabs that lime the entrance to the Peace Park at Messines that commemorates  the joint action of the 16th (Irish) and the 36th (Ulster) Divisions in June 1917.

Gleeson

Royal Dublin Fus 1915

Image from https://www.facebook.com/pages/Its-Time-To-Remember-200000-Brave-Irishmen Royal Dublin Fusiliers  leaving what is now Collins Barracks in Dublin, on their way to Gallipoli where weeks later they were slaughtered by the thousand

We must remember all of these Irishmen with pride – husbands, fathers, sons, uncles, lovers, neighbours, – not to glorify war but  rather to acknowledge the horror and obscenity of it, in every generation.

We are the Dead……. Short days ago
We lived,….. felt dawn,…… saw sunset glow,
  Loved and were loved, …….and now we lie
         In Flanders fields.

References

http://www.militaryheritage.ie/research/milmuseums/collins-articles/chaplain.htm

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Its-Time-To-Remember-200000-Brave-Irishmen/153705051393544?id=153705051393544&sk=photos_stream

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Filed under Ireland, Irish at War, Irish Heritage, Irish History

Postcards from Dublin. A September Morning

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Filed under Ireland, Irish Countryside, Irish Culture, Irish Heritage, Living in Ireland, My Travels

Digging up the Ancestors from Irish Bogs

We have news of another Bog Body found yesterday (11 August 2011) in Ireland by a worker harvesting peat.
The body was found in Cashel Bog in County Laois, and unlike many earlier bog body discoveries, this one was actually seen before it was ripped from the ground by the harvesting machine, so it has been possible to examine it where it lay. First indications are that it may be over 3,000 years old!

NMI and Bord na Mona workers examine the body in Laois. Picture RTE TV

There have been hundreds of bog bodies discovered in the peat wetlands of Europe over the last few centuries, about a hundred of which have been in Ireland. The cold, acidic and anaerobic conditions in peat bogs ‘pickles’ bodies so that they resemble brown coloured mummies. Skin and internal organs are preserved, but the bones are dissolved by the acid. The body discovered in Laois seems to have been placed in a leather bag. The legs are protruding and have been preserved, while the remainder of the body protected by the leather has not been preserved to the same extent, if at all.
It is estimated that about 1/6th of Ireland is covered in bog. As children, we were constantly warned about the dangers of ‘falling into a bog hole’ and often heard stories of people who vanished without trace,the assumption being that they had not heeded the warnings of parents!

When a bog body is discovered it is a truly unusual event. The question invariably arises as to how it got to be there in the first place. It is unlikely that someone whose head and torso is inside a leather bag  was an errant traveller who fell in. That leaves the possibility that the bog was used as a burial-place. However, some of the human remains discovered have signs of torture and or execution, with evidence of hanging, strangulation, stabbing and bludgeoning. So were they people who had been put to death for crimes against society, were they murdered by vagabonds, or could they have been ritually  sacrificed?

Clonycavan Man at the National Museum of Ireland, Dublin. Picture Sven Shaw Commons.Wikimedia.org

In 2003 two bog body discoveries were made in Ireland: In  February near Clonycavan on the Meath/Westmeath border and, just weeks later in May some 25 miles away, at Old Croghan in County Offaly. Known as Clonycavan Man and Old Croghan Man, neither body was intact. Both these bodies were subjected to an array of tests and analysis using modern medical imaging techniques, pathology and other scientific methods, and were carried out by an international group of experts. Radiocarbon dating showed that both had died about the same time, some 2,300 years ago.  Clonycavan Man appears to have suffered a blow to the head that smashed open his skull, while Old Croghan Man showed signs of having been stabbed, beheaded and dismembered.  Ropes made from hazel were threaded through his arms.  Ned Kelly of the National Museum of Ireland, in researching locations of bog bodies found in Ireland reported that there were some 30 to 40 instances of such remains found on or near ancient borders or boundaries. This would indicate the likelihood of human sacrifice. ‘My belief is that these burials are offerings to the gods of fertility by kings to ensure a successful reign’ he told the BBC.  ‘Bodies ‘ he said, ‘are placed in the borders immediately surrounding royal land or on tribal boundaries to ensure a good yield of corn and milk throughout the reign of the king’.

The results of the investigations into this latest discovery are eagerly awaited so that we might know how or why she or he died. In the meantime, we can say for sure that Cashel Man or Cashel Woman was someone’s child, may have had brothers and sisters and may have been a parent themselves. Who knows, he or she may well be one of our own family ancestors!
Kingship & Sacrifice is the title of an exhibition in the National Museum of Ireland that  is centred on the theory of bog burials on political or royal boundaries and has exhibits from Ireland and beyond. It is in Dublin, Kildare Street and admission is free.
Further Reading
Ireland’s Peat Bogs How Bogs are made.
The Bog Bodies  A Timewatch Documentary on the National Museum investigation into the Bog Bodies.

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Filed under Ancestry, Ireland, Irish History