Finally, our war heroes get the credit they’re due
Today’s WWI events show how far we’ve come
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