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The Irish Soldiers in WWI
In 1919, a trust was founded to fund a permanent memorial to all the Irishmen who had fallen. Some nationalists opposed a number of proposals and an early plan to locate a memorial in Merrion Square failed. The present War Memorial Gardens in Dublin was completed under a de Valera administration in 1936.
The War Memorial Gardens are located on the southern slopes of the Liffey River, opposite the Magazine Fort in Phoenix Park. Designed by Sir Edward Lutyens, the gardens were built by a workforce made up of ex-servicemen from both the British and Irish armies. The Memorial is part of a larger, 150-acre park between Islandbridge and Chapelizod.
The committee which proposed building a memorial and established the Irish National War Memorial Trust fund to cover the cost, also erected memorials to the Irish soldiers at battlefields in France and Flanders. An eight-volume directory of the names and services of every Irish officer and soldier killed in the Great War was also published. Copies of these records are kept in the book-rooms at the National War Memorial.
In the early days after the war, many communities erected memorials to honor those who had been killed. During the early twenties, thousands of people would gather at various centers around the country, such as College Green in Dublin where the Ginchy Cross was temporarily erected each year as an Irish Cenotaph. A two minute silence was observed at 11am. According to 'The Irish Times, "120,00 people attended the College Green commemoration in 1925."
On the Sunday prior to Remembrance Day, veterans gathered to parade to a requiem mass and a service at both Dublin cathedrals - Catholic and Protestant. These religious services were attended by the Lord Mayor of Dublin and Foreign Ministers accredited to the Irish Free State. Representatives of the Free State government attended official commemorations in both Dublin and London and in 1938, a Fianna Fáil government sent a wreath of orange flowers and white lilies to the London Cenotaph, "in memory of the brave."
The singing of the British national anthem and the display of the Union Jack at these events caused a great deal of distress to participants; Imperialists exploited the occasion as much as extreme Nationalists. Over the years, in the Irish consciousness, the poppy and Remembrance Day have become associated less with respect for those who died in war and wrongly confused with a statement of political allegiance.
We are the dead. Short
Take up quarrel
The Armistice at the end of WWI was signed on November 11th at precisely 11 am - the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. Since then, those who paid the ultimate sacrifice are honored every year, on November 11th.
The poppy was adopted as the symbol of remembrance because it was so widespread on the sites of the battlefields in Europe. The seeds of the common field poppy germinate best in newly-cultivated soil. The soil disturbances caused by trench-digging and shellfire produced ideal conditions for poppy growth and they appeared in vast numbers bringing a delicate beauty to areas which had seen such terrible scenes only a short while before.
Field Marshal Earl Haig, commander of the allied forces on the Western Front, founded the Haig Fund to assist ex-servicemen disabled during WWI. This fund is now administered by the Royal British Legion and supports ex-servicemen and their dependents. The Poppy Appeal continues to raise funds for this cause by selling small paper or fabric poppies, which are worn in November by many people in Ireland and the British Isles to signify their support and as a memorial to the victims of all wars.
Recent years have seen the reintroduction of the two minutes' silence on November 11th. At precisely eleven o'clock, people throughout the world come to a standstill as the two minutes silence is observed. Although this is purely voluntary and a matter for the individual's conscience, there has been widespread public support.
As for the role of the Irish soldiers, it was gradually played down by the Republic who wanted to distance Ireland from Great Britain, and by others who preferred not to dwell on the contribution the Irish had made to the war.
Recently, some commentators and historians have begun to examine and evaluate the Irish soldiers' participation. Some attention is now being given to the sacrifice of the 35,500 Irish soldiers who died, the suffering of the 200,000 who watched their comrades perish and the grief of the loved ones who mourned for so many lives lost or ruined.
This article first appeared in honor of Veteran's Day last November. It is this author's hope that on this Memorial Day in the USA, we will once again proudly remember all of our fallen heroes, especially those who gave their lives in WWI. He wasn't killed on the battlefield, but you can be certain that I will be cherishing the memory of a Galway-born dad who willingly set aside internal politics in order to fight for a much greater cause.
Note: (Veteran's Day, 2002)
Interesting Fact: Did you know that Ireland has produced more Medal of Honor recipients than any other country? To learn more about those who were awarded the highest honor the USA can bestow, please click here: The Wild Geese
Image"Poppy Field, Languedoc" published by kind permission of the artist, Mary Gregg Byrne. To see Mary's internet gallery, please click here: Changing Light Artworks
The Easter Lily Pin
Symbolic of the emergence and resurrection of a free Ireland, Cumann na mBan (the League of Women) led by Constance Markievicz, popularized the wearing of the Easter Lily pin in 1926 in remembrance for those who gave their lives for the cause of Irish independence during the 1916 Easter Rising. In later years, wearing the pin began to fall out of favor as it became associated more with the IRA than with a symbol of rememberance. However, there is now renewed interest in restoring the wearing of the pin to its original status as a mark of respect and in memory of the many young men and women who died during the rebellion.
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March 4, 2011
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