Sunday 25 February 2018

'We hope our re-imagined poppy will be sign of hope'

The Tree of Remembrance sculpture to honour fallen avoids any glorification of war, writes Anita Guidera

Poppy wreaths laid at the memorial in Dublin’s St Patrick’s Cathedral.
Poppy wreaths laid at the memorial in Dublin’s St Patrick’s Cathedral.
on the west wall of the transept is the striking French stained glass windows to honour three brothers who perished in the fighting
A brass plate honours the Boys’ Brigade

Anita Guidera

IRELAND'S most significant memorial to World War One is about to be re-imagined. A stark 20-ft tall iron sculpture of a bare tree, shrouded in barbed wire, will become the new centre-piece in the memorial chapel to the war dead in Dublin's St Patrick's Cathedral.

This apocalyptic-like Tree of Remembrance will be installed in the cathedral's North Transept chapel in late July where it will be surrounded by the more traditional brass and marble memorials to a select few victims of the First World War.

The sculpture and accompanying exhibition represents a bold move away from exclusivity and the glorification of war towards inclusivity and a more critical exploration of the wider impact of conflict.

"Traditionally in cathedrals, individuals are remembered and it is quite an exclusive club," admitted Andrew Smith, education officer, with St Patrick's Cathedral.

"Generally they are officer class, they are from the Anglican community and they are all men."

"We are using the centenary of World War One as a kind of opportunity to make a statement that it doesn't sit well with us that so few are remembered.

"We feel that all should be remembered."

Visitors to the soaring gothic cathedral will be invited to place personal messages on tags and attach them to the barbed wire.

"It is a re-imagined poppy. The tree is a neutral symbol without the political trappings and we hope will become a symbol of hope in darkness and destruction."

Annual war remembrance services have been taking place in the Church of Ireland Cathedral since 1919.

IN November 1991, President Mary Robinson made history when she became the first Irish Head of State to attend the Remembrance Day Service.

Presidents McAleese and Higgins have continued the practice, placing a poppy wreath at the war memorial in the solemn chapel ceremony.

Above them, in various stages of decay, fly flags of the various regiment colours, which traditionally are hung from the walls and left to decay over time.

On the west wall of the transept is the striking French stained-glass window commemorating three brothers who perished in the First World War.

It was erected by a Dublin couple, in memory of their sons, Charles Stockley French and Claude Alexander French and their half-brother Bernard Digby, all of whom died on the Western Front.

Poignantly, the window includes fragments of glass from the war-damaged Ypres Cathedral in Belgium, which were recovered from the wreckage and brought back to Dublin by one of the brothers.

Over a dozen individual monuments in the form of brass or marble plates commemorate such victims as Lieutenant George Ross McGusty, Captain Henry Maxwell, and Lieutenant Ernest Edward Brannigan, all killed in France in 1916.

Also on public display is a rare copy of Ireland's Memorial Records, a Roll of Honour, naming 49,647 men and women from the island of Ireland who died on active duty in World War One.

Staff at the cathedral are hopeful that the new sculpture and exhibition will encourage more Irish people into the cathedral, which is visited by over 400,000 international visitors every year.


See our dedicated  World War 1 section here.

Irish Independent Supplement

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