Churches join veterans in tribute to fallen comrades
IT was a national celebration of valour, with the pomp and ceremonial flourishes of military and State. But for the veterans who were centre stage, many now elderly and frail, it was also a deeply personal and emotional reflection on fallen comrades and dark times.
As the Last Post sounded and a single cannon was fired in remembrance of Irish men and women killed in past wars or on service with the United Nations, the presence of these veterans were a reminder of sacrifices made in our name, and which for some are still too painful to recall.
The ceremony held particular significance on the centenary of the beginning of the Great War – although 1,000 years of conflict was recalled, with the Battle of Clontarf also mentioned by former President Mary Robinson, who spoke afterwards.
And while for many years, the idea of a National Day of Commemorations was controversial, the soldiers from across the divide showed that in reality, there was no divide.
"It's so important for everybody to get together," said Ulsterman Jimmy Scott, now living in Basingstoke in England, who saw 23 years active service with the Royal Irish Rangers, mostly in Africa and in Korea.
President Michael D Higgins and his wife, Sabine, led the commemorations at the Royal Hospital in Kilmainham Hospital in Dublin yesterday, which began with the President inspecting the Guard of Honour.
Among the guests were the Council of State, several members of the new Cabinet including Ministers Alex White, Frances Fitzgerald and Heather Humphreys, making their first official engagement in office, along with diplomats, relatives of deceased soldiers and of 1916 leaders and members of the judiciary.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny then invited representatives of the Christian, Islamic and Jewish faiths to lead an act of commemoration in accordance with their own traditions, commenting that it was fitting that we remembered all those Irish men and women who died in past wars or on service with the United Nations.
"This year in particular we remember all those who died in the Great War," he said.
The leader of the Jewish faith in Ireland, Rabbi Zalman Lent, prayed that the efforts and sacrifice of those being honoured would be "transformed into the blessing of peace throughout the world".
The Right Reverend Dr Michael Barry, the leader of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland pointed out that at this time of anniversaries, we recall that our history is marked with conflicts.
"In this year we especially remember the Battle of Clontarf and the beginning of the First World War," he said.
Auxiliary Bishop of Dublin Eamonn Walsh said we held dear the living memory of all Irishmen and Irishwomen who died in past wars or on service with the United Nations.
And as the voice of the leader of the Islamic Cultural Centre of Ireland, Imam Sheikh Hussein Halawa rose in quavering prayer, we recalled his own sufferings amid conflict, with his 17-year-old son, Ibrahim Halawa, imprisoned in Egypt for almost a year without charge.
The Taoiseach then invited the President to lay a wreath of honour on behalf of the Irish people, after which a minute's silence was observed. It was broken by a single cannon fired in the distance.
The Last Post was sounded, the National Flag hoisted to full mast and then the Reveille sounded before the National Anthem was played and the veterans stood straight with pride as the tricolour fluttered in the breeze.
Ronald Houko, a former military broadcaster with the American Legion, now living in Co Mayo said it was an honour to be present.
"Look what the Irish have given the world," he said, pointing to the founding of three major world naval powers by Irish men – John Barry of Wexford who founded the US navy, Admiral William Brown of Mayo who founded the Argentinean navy and Pedro Campbell, the Irish "gaucho admiral" who founded the naval service of Uruguay.
Desmond Branigan (96), of the British Merchant Navy, now living in a nursing home in Shankill, Co Dublin said the celebrations brought back memories of his shipmates who were torpedoed in the Atlantic while ferrying supplies during the Second World War.