French honour Irish dead with gift to Irish people
A new monument to Irish troops who died on the battlefields of France was unveiled at Glasnevin cemetery in Dublin today.
The monument was a gift from the people of France to Ireland to recognise and give thanks for the tens of thousands of young Irishmen who died defending liberty on French soil.
The new France-Ireland Memorial was officially dedicated by French Government Minister Jean-Marc Todeschini and Minister for Arts and Heritage Heather Humphries.
French and Irish soldiers took part in the ceremony.
The memorial, created by the Paris Fine Arts School, is more than seven metres tall and consists of a Celtic cross surrounded by several tall leaning rocks resembling ancient Irish and French dolmens. Three bronze battle helmets rest on nearby rocks.
The cross is a replica of a wooden cross created by men of the 16th Irish Division 100 years ago during the Battle of the Somme at the churchyard at Ginchy in France.
The mayors of Ginchy and the nearby town of Guillemont joined Dublin Lord Mayor Brendan Carr at the ceremony.
Inscribed on the rocks at the cross, in Irish, French, and English, were the words of Supreme Allied Commander in the Great War, Marshal Ferdinand Foch, who declared “Some of the flower of Irish chivalry rests in the cemeteries that have been reserved in France, and the French people will always have these reminders of the debt that France owes to Irish valour.
“We shall always see that the graves of these heroes from across the sea are loveinly tended, and we shall try to ensure that the generations that come after us shall never forget the heroic dead of Ireland.”
The monument also portrays French gratitude to the Irish men who fought for the freedom of France in World War Two and the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71.
The national anthems of France and Ireland and The Last Post resounded at the event. The haunting strains of a lone piper were also heard.
Three Irishmen who fought in France in the Second World War, Albert Sutton, James Moore, and Jack Allshire were awarded with the Legion of Honour by Minister Todeschini at the ceremony.
Albert Sutton (94) from Clontarf in Dublin, who lives in the suburb of Kilternan, was among the first troops into the Belsen concentration camp. He told Independent.ie how he helped supervise the burial of 7,000 Jewish victims of the Nazis at the camp.
James Moore (92), from Borrisokane, who lives in Coolbawn, County Tipperary, spoke afterwards of landing on a Normandy beach just a few days after D-Day when the Allies were still being bombed.
He said afterwards: “The first dead German I saw was an airman who had been shot down and he seemed no more than 19 or 20. No one had a good word to say about him but I thought he was somebody’s son.”
Barbara Allshire accepted a posthumous award on behalf of her Cork-born husband Jack who died recently.
Glasnevin Trust Chairman John Green said the new monument recognised Ireland’s contribution to France and was a reminder of “the frightful cost of war.”
Meanwhile, Taoiseach Enda Kenny was in Enniskillen where he joined Northern Ireland First Minister Arlene Foster at a wreath-laying ceremony to remember the Irish war dead.
Mr Kenny has taken part in the ceremony every year since 2012 and laid a wreath of green laurels alongside the many red poppies at the Co Fermanagh town's war memorial.
Tanaiste and Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald laid a laurel wreath at a remembrance ceremony in Belfast..
She said: "So many people across the island lost their lives; 50,000 families affected by loss of a loved one during the First World War.
"We have had a government minister here since 2012 and I think it is really important to come together, to remember together and to look at our shared histories."