Wednesday 7 December 2016

Mary Kenny: From the Somme to the soccer

As France hosts the Euros, one of her bloodiest battles is remembered

Published 26/06/2016 | 02:30

Mary Kenny
Mary Kenny

How wonderful to see those happy, smiling Irish football fans in France for Euro 2016. A hundred years ago, how many similar young lads would be setting off for the killing fields of Flanders, to be slaughtered in their thousands at the terrible Battle of the Somme?

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For, at 7.30am on July 1, 1916, the Somme offensive commenced. By lunchtime, there were nearly 60,000 casualties among British and Irish troops - including the devastation of the 36th Ulster Division.

The Ulstermen fought valiantly - yes, they went into battle with their ancestral cry of "No surrender!" - and they breached the German lines, but they were forced to withdraw in the face of counter-attacks. They suffered 5,000 casualties on the first morning. Sir Edward Carson, who had so ardently encouraged the Ulstermen to fight in the 1914-18 war, never recovered, politically or psychologically.

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