Forgotten no more -- the 4,000 who fell at Gallipoli
Published 25/03/2010 | 05:00
THEY are among the most forgotten of them all. Young Irish men, they lie in their thousands, many of them in unmarked graves that are scattered across a foreign battlefield called Gallipoli.
Now, 95 years after they fought and died for the British Empire, homage was finally paid to the ultimate sacrifice of more than 4,000 Irish soldiers who perished in the Allies' failed invasion of Turkey during the First World War.
The rugged beauty of the Gallipoli peninsula is dotted with dozens of memorials and graveyards which serve as a grim and awful reminder to the half-a-million British, ANZAC, Irish and Turkish troops who lost their lives in one of the bloodiest conflicts of the Great War.
Young Irishmen like Alfred Verrent, from Nenagh, Co Tipperary. Aged just 17, he is the youngest Irish soldier to lie buried in the cemetery that sits above the grimly named V Beach, where thousands of Allied troops were slaughtered as they tried to make it ashore.
Nearby, two headstones side by side mark the graves of Newry brothers Sam (19) and John Mallaghan (21), who also fell during April 1915.
The trio are among 696 buried in this one cemetery alone -- most of them Irish -- although only 20 graves are identified.
Yesterday, President Mary McAleese made her own personal pilgrimage to the battle site to remember and to pay homage to what she described as "all those tragically wasted lives".
In a unified show of solidarity, she was joined by members of the Northern Ireland-based Somme Association, the Royal Dublin Fusilliers and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission in laying wreaths in remembrance of Irishmen from north and south of the border who lost their lives.
The President revealed her wish that a joint commemoration should take place on the island of Ireland to mark the centenary of the Great War in five years' time.
For many who died in the First World War, she said, their memories had been brought home to Ireland and "put in shoe boxes in the attic because of the vanities of history".
While those who fell at the Somme were remembered as courageous heroes, Gallipoli was an even more dreadful story because those who were involved in that conflict were associated with a catastrophe.
Mrs McAleese said Ireland had come a long way since then in rehabilitating the memory of the men who had sacrificed their lives in World War One.
She spoke movingly of the cost of the Gallipoli campaign and how that cost was dreadful for the Allies and the Turks.
"The cost to the Irish became a story lost, suppressed and neglected for many of the decades in between," she said.
The President said there was something very special in coming to this spot to commemorate all the dead -- in the company of people from both the North and South of Ireland and their Turkish friends.
Mrs McAleese and her husband, Dr Martin McAleese, were given a graphic account of how hundreds of Irishmen were cut down as they struggled ashore on V Beach by Turkish machine guns situated along the ridge overhead.
In a visit to the Monument of the Martyrs, President McAleese was shown row after row of memorial 'headstones' carrying the names of 60,000 Turkish troops who perished in the conflict.
"When we looked at the graves at the Somme, many were 19 or 20," she told the governor of Canakkale, Abdulkadir Atalik, who had accompanied her to the huge memorial.
Gesturing to the thousands of names before her, she said many of the men had been in their late 20s and would have had children and families.
Meanwhile, Aras an Uachtarain has admitted that claims that Drogheda's coat of arms was linked to Turkey were not based on historical fact.
Earlier this week, President McAleese revealed a bizarre link between the Irish Famine, Turkey and Drogheda during remarks at a dinner at the Presidential Palace in Ankara.
She told how during the Famine, Turkey's then leader, Sultan Abdul Majid, sent three ships loaded with food to Drogheda. Since then, the star and crescent of Turkey formed part of the town's coat of arms and those symbols of Turkish kindness were also to be found on the crest of Drogheda's football team, she said.
But in a statement last night, the Aras said that while the reference had been included in good faith, "it is now accepted that the reference in the President's remarks to the genesis of the star and the crescent on Drogheda's coat of arms and its link to Turkey would not appear to be based on sound historical fact."