Thursday 22 August 2019

Remembering those who fought and died

'[Donal] Croghan sees no conflict between the poppy and republicanism'
'[Donal] Croghan sees no conflict between the poppy and republicanism'

Fiona O'Connell

So how is your New Year going? I mean the pre-Christian Celtic one that began this month. Which is probably the only light-hearted thing you can say about November - a month traditionally associated with darkness and death.

Maybe that's why I find myself focussed once more on the dearly departed. In this case, the almost 900 men and women from this county who died in World War I. Though sadly, it is debatable that their memory is held dear. As Donal Croghan, chairman of the Kilkenny Great War Memorial committee points out: "Kilkenny is one of the last counties in Ireland not to have a memorial."

To that end, the committee, in conjunction with Kilkenny County Council, are holding a Service of Remembrance in Kilkenny Castle today. The event incorporates an ecumenical service and the laying of wreaths. But perhaps most poignant of all will be the 3,129 crosses representing those from the county who took part in the European conflict, including 870 black crosses for those who perished.

This replica of a World War I cemetery will be organised around 39 headstones, symbolising all the county parishes. It remains on view until November 15; along with an exhibition that will see images of soldiers projected on the castle walls, as well as recordings of their names and ages.

"We want the reality of these people who died to resonate," Croghan explains, "to raise awareness."

Alongside some desperately needed donations. For money is the main reason why the memorial still doesn't exist. The committee is hoping that the county council will make a substantial donation.

"Apart from being the right thing to do, to honour these people, it would also be a brilliant tourist attraction," believes Croghan. "Even generations later, families would come and spend money visiting the memorial."

Their appeal to the public has led to some heart-warming experiences; like the 90-year-old lady who had "a bread-wrapper full of cents. When she heard they were being phased out, she put them in one of those digitalised money boxes and presented it to us when it reached €10."

Those are the bright lights in a brutal process. "To have to stand shaking a bucket on the street so that the memory of these people who gave their lives for our freedom isn't erased is just appalling."

For Croghan sees no conflict between the poppy and republicanism. He himself is taking part on (the other) New Year's Day in a re-enactment of the 1916 uprising. "Our history is very complex - we cannot box it off. The last thing this is about is glorifying war. We want to do the memorial once, but do it well."

Which seems the only decent thing for those who died.

Sunday Independent

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