News Irish News

Friday 21 July 2017

Kenny lays wreath for Irish dead in WWI battle on final foreign trip

The Duke of Cambridge, Princess Astrid of Belgium and Taoiseach Enda Kenny at the commemoration of the Battle of Messines Ridge at the Island of Ireland Peace Park in Mesen, Belgium. Photo: Reuters/PA
The Duke of Cambridge, Princess Astrid of Belgium and Taoiseach Enda Kenny at the commemoration of the Battle of Messines Ridge at the Island of Ireland Peace Park in Mesen, Belgium. Photo: Reuters/PA

Sarah Collins

As Leo Varadkar laid the ground for his imminent appointment as Taoiseach, the incumbent leader, Enda Kenny, laid wreaths for Ireland's World War I dead.

Mr Kenny's last foreign engagement as Taoiseach was spent with Britain's Prince William and Belgium's Princess Astrid, commemorating the fallen in the 1917 Battle of Messines Ridge, near the Belgian-French border.

The battle marked the first time unionist and nationalist soldiers - from the 36th Ulster and the 16th Irish divisions - fought alongside each other during the war.

The Allied offensive began with the simultaneous explosion of 19 massive mines on the German front lines.

Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan, who was at the joint British-Irish ceremony, said it was "symbolic in terms of its huge importance on the journey of reconciliation" between the UK and Ireland.

"While reflecting on their honour and on their memory, we look to the future with lessons of the past firmly learned, of the need to continue on the journey towards full reconciliation," Mr Flanagan told reporters.

"We face very difficult challenges in terms of our relationship," he said.

"And I believe it's important that we continue to work together."

More than 700 people braved the blustering Belgian wind for the ceremony at the Island of Ireland Peace Park in the town of Messines (or Mesen, as it is known by its Dutch-speaking residents), which was followed by a more intimate event at Wijtschate cemetery, where many Irish soldiers are buried.

Mr Kenny also visited the grave of Major Willy Redmond, brother of Irish nationalist politician John Redmond, who was shot at Messines and later died from his injuries.

Around 40,000 men - both Allied and German soldiers - are estimated to have died in the Battle of Messines Ridge, which took place exactly 100 years ago yesterday.

It is regarded as one of the Allied successes in the war, and was a precursor to the infamous Third Battle of Ypres, or Passchendaele.

Irish Independent

Promoted articles

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News