This coming Sunday marks the 100th anniversary of the ending of the Great War. It was supposed to be the war to end all wars and it was expected to last approximately four months. Instead, it went on for over four years, ending on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918. Of the 210,000 Irish men who went off to fight, over 36,000 never came home. Thousands returned injured in mind and body to a country whose political landscape had changed completely. As a nation, it has taken us most of that 100 years to acknowledge those men and to commemorate their sacrifices. It is now fitting that we remember them.
St Patricks Cathedral in Dublin has a unique commemoration, aptly named Fallen. Messages in the shape of leaves have been suspended from the ceiling, 36,000 messages in all, each leaf commemorating an Irish fatality during the Great War. The installation is temporary and can be viewed during the month of November. There are commemorations being held the length and breadth of the country. To find out if there is something happening near you, look up the website: https://www.decadeofcentenaries.com/category/forthcoming/
In Kildare next Sunday a civic commemoration will take place in Aras Chill Dara where a memorial to the Kildare war dead will be unveiled. I hope to attend the Kildare event and remember not just the Kildare dead but my great uncle, an 18-year-old Belfast man, who signed up in August 1914 with the Royal Irish Rifles and was one of only 42 Catholic men in the 36th Ulster Division. He lost a limb in battle in 1916, returned to Belfast and never spoke of his time in the trenches, like so many others of his generation. He married and settled near Clonard Monastery off the Falls Road and died in the 1960’s. It was only during the research for our family tree that I found out about James’s service in the British army. My novel ‘Charlie Mac’ covers this period of our history. (available on Amazon for Kindle and paperback)
We are living in the decade of centenaries. Two years ago we commemorated the Easter Rising. Next Sunday we commemorate the ending of the Great War. Over the next few years, we will commemorate 100 years of women in politics and the election of the first woman member of parliament to Westminster. We will commemorate 100 years of Dáil Éireann, the War of Independence, the Civil War and the partition of our country.
It is important that we commemorate each of these anniversaries and respect the memory of all those who lived and died in those turbulent times.