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Saturday 27 May 2017

'Brothers in arms' remembered in Battle of the Somme centenary ceremony

Taoiseach Enda Kenny (front row) and Minister Leo Varadkar (behind, with his head in his hands) attend the Battle of the Somme centenary commemoration at the Irish National War Memorial Gardens at Islandbridge in Dublin yesterday afternoon Photo: Mark Condren
Taoiseach Enda Kenny (front row) and Minister Leo Varadkar (behind, with his head in his hands) attend the Battle of the Somme centenary commemoration at the Irish National War Memorial Gardens at Islandbridge in Dublin yesterday afternoon Photo: Mark Condren
Mark O'Regan

Mark O'Regan

"They were brothers in arms - they are the heroic dead of Ireland."

The slaughter of the Somme - which 100 years ago claimed the lives of over 3,500 Irishmen from north and south - was recalled yesterday in a poignant remembrance ceremony.

Political leaders from both sides of the border stood silently in the Irish National War Memorial Gardens, Islandbridge, in memory of the fallen. Those organisations especially dedicated to the memory of those who died also paid their own respects, as they pondered the legacy of one of the bloodiest confrontations in history.

The gardens are a place of reflection dedicated to the memory of the thousands who perished in the trenches, or who were mowed down in the killing fields, described as "no man's land''.

In an evocative moment, representatives of the Royal British Legion brought forward memorial records listing those who died, and placed them on the cenotaph. The Legion was represented by members from both the Republic and Northern Ireland.

The total casualty list for the battle of the Somme totalled over one million men.

President Michael D Higgins laid a wreath on behalf of the people of Ireland.

And in another sign of unity, forged by the power of shared memory, Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness and the North's Secretary of State Theresa Villiers both placed a wreath in remembrance.

The trees, shrubs, and flowers in the memorial gardens billowed in a soft summer breeze, as the evocative words from the poem In Flanders Fields rang out.

Strains of Oft In The Stilly Night, sung by the Mount Sackville and Schoil Mhuire Choir, also demonstrated a mood of deep reflection.

The flags of the 16th Irish Division, the 10th Irish Division, and the 36th Ulster Division, which all suffered grievous losses in the quagmire of the Somme, stood proudly in the background.

The guard of honour at yesterday's ceremonies included members of the 27th Infantry Battalion, as well as the Air Corps and the Irish Naval Service.

In attendance were Taoiseach Enda Kenny, a number of Government ministers including Leo Varadkar, former presidents Mary McAleese and Mary Robinson, and the British Ambassador Dominick Chilcott. Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers paid tribute to the thousands of Irishmen who volunteered to fight in the Great War and gave their lives serving in the uniform of the British Army.

"It is fitting that the Irish Government has ensured that those brave men are now being remembered for the part they played," she said.

"In particular, we commemorate today all those from the 16th Irish Division who sustained an agonising 4,300 casualties in successfully capturing Guillemont and Ginchy in September 1916."

Sunday Independent

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