Fi­nally, our war heroes get the credit they’re due

To­day’s WWI events show how far we’ve come

The Irish Mail on Sunday - - COMMENT - JOE DUFFY

ONE hun­dred years ago to­day World War I ended, but in truth we are never far away from those who lived – and died – in that fu­tile war. My fa­ther’s un­cle, Tom, lived in a small cot­tage just off Dorset Street in Dublin. I vividly re­mem­ber vis­it­ing him in the 1960s – a big, gen­tle man who re­luc­tantly talked about his role in the war. With a bul­let still lodged in his shoul­der, he told me how, when they were fight­ing in France, they ran out of am­mu­ni­tion… and friends. Along with his older brother, Christy, who lost his job as a house painter af­ter the 1913 Lock­out, they signed up with the Dublin Fusiliers. With 12 of them liv­ing in one room in a ten­e­ment at 89 Church Street, they had no op­tion but to take a job in the Bri­tish army.

The broth­ers were promptly shipped to France. From the be­gin­ning of the war, Christy and Tom were never far from death. In April 1915, along with 20 other Dublin­ers, they mirac­u­lously sur­vived a Ger­man gassing at Mouse Trap Farm near Ypres – 658 of their com­rades died in that hor­rific at­tack.

Christy and Tom were then marched to the Somme where Christy, just 22, was killed on April 16, 1916. Eight days af­ter Christy’s death, Church Street was one of the cen­tres of the Easter Ris­ing. How­ever, when his fam­ily in­serted a me­mo­rial no­tice a year later, they did not men­tion that he was a sol­dier in the Bri­tish army. By that time, Ire­land had changed its at­ti­tude to the 200,000 who had signed up for the only army they could, to fight for ‘small na­tions’. As many as 50,000 young men never re­turned – part of the 19mil­lion killed in one of the dead­li­est con­flicts in world his­tory. But grad­u­ally Ire­land for­got them. In some po­lit­i­cal quar­ters they were seen as ‘traitors’ to the ‘pa­tri­ots’ who par­tic­i­pated in the 1916 Ris­ing. Even the beau­ti­ful war me­mo­rial gar­dens in Is­land­bridge in Dublin fell into dis­use and dis­re­pair. For many years this me­mo­rial was sim­ply a no-go rough drink­ing spot.

To­day, at 11am, the War Me­mo­rial will host one of the many pub­lic events around the coun­try to re­mem­ber those who fell 100 years ago.

Pres­i­dent Hig­gins will at­tend Glas­nevin Ceme­tery to mark the end of the war, hours be­fore he is in­au­gu­rated for his sec­ond term in Áras an Uachtaráin.

It’s a mark of how far we have come as a coun­try that the ar­rival of the remarkable piece of pub­lic sculp­ture, the 20ft

Haunting Sol­dier in­side the Fusiliers Gate in St Stephen’s Green, has been al­most uni­ver­sally wel­comed. Yes, one man did tell me dur­ing the week it ‘should be re­moved the way Nel­son’s Pil­lar was re­moved’ – but he is in a mi­nor­ity.

To­day is a day of re­mem­brance, re­mind­ing us, once again, of the ab­so­lute fu­til­ity of vi­o­lence.

WRITE TO JOE AT: The Ir­ish Mail on Sun­day, Em­bassy House, Balls­bridge, Dublin 4

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Ireland

© PressReader. All rights reserved.