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Monday 17 December 2018

Bringing our men home - Armistice Day will remember Sligo's fallen

Ciara Galvin speaks to Simone Hickey about how Sligo will remember the lives lost during World War 1 on armistice day in conjunction with the Blue Raincoat Theatre.

November 11th at 11.11am marks 100 years since the cessation of World War I.

To commemorate Armistice Day and remember 605 Sligo soldiers and five civilians who lost their lives, a peaceful procession will take place in the town.

Thanks to extensive research from local historian Simone Hickey, it is estimated that 5,000 men from Sligo, or of Sligo origin were volunteers during the Great War.

According to Simone, 605 of these men lost their lives during the four year war or subsequently because of injuries suffered.

Five civilians including two women also perished.

To commemorate those who fought valiantly during this catastrophic conflict, Blue Raincoat Theatre Company is organising a large scale public arts participation event.

Taking place at eleven minutes past eleven - the moment armistice came into effect 100 years ago, a silent procession will leave from Quay St and concludes at the war memorial at the top of Mail Coach Road on November 11th.

Speaking to The Sligo Champion about her research and the importance of the event, Simone said it is a way to 'bring our men home'.

"My drive for the last four years is to bring the men home and the only way I could do that was fight for a memorial, which upsets people because we're so near the border, or we represent the men once in town," explained Ms Hickey.

Before Christmas last year Simone met with Malcolm Hamilton and Niall Henry of Blue Raincoat Theatre Company to discuss ideas and they have been meeting up weekly ever since to make the idea a reality

"I was adamant that if they [Malcolm and Niall] were on board, it would be non political, non religious, it would be non military.

"Although they died in the Great War I wanted to have men representing men leaving Sligo as every day people, butchers, printers, farmers' sons."

Men taking part in the procession will be dressed in plain clothes of the era with no military uniforms or medals.

Simone describes it as 'heartbreaking' that families in Sligo may not even know they had relatives who lost their lives fighting.

The historian believes those who left Sligo to fight did so out of peer pressure, from family, friends and the Catholic Church, and to a lesser extent, for economic reasons.

"It was the right thing for them to do, they went because all the politicians, clergy and friends they worked with were pushing them to go to war."

Putting it into context that not just one person per family lost their lives during the four year period, Simone details many families who lost four and five members, and said her own great grandfather never came home.

"Two sets of fathers and sons died, five O'Connor brothers went, only one came home, the Collins family, eight went and only four came home, whole families were impacted."

Niall Henry, Artistic Director of Blue Raincoat Theatre Company explained that in order to accurately represent the nature of the losses suffered, participants in the procession will be men aged between 18 and 40..

"Each will personally represent a named Sligo casualty...Sligo lost 16 people the first day of The Battle of the Somme, a total of 121 for the duration of the battle.

"The human cost of the Great War was huge in individual lives lost and devastated lives left behind," said Mr Henry

The impact on Sligo and the county was huge with 28 percent of Sligo men of military age (18 to 40) signed up over the 1914 to 1918 period.

The event will be historically neutral and it is hoped the commemoration event will be a dignified tribute and public acknowledgement of Sligo's fatalities from this conflict. The public are invited to come out to observe the procession

The project is supported by the European Union's PEACE IV Programme, managed by the Special EU Programmes Body (SEUPB) with support from Creative Ireland, the Arts Council, Sligo County Council and Sligo Tourist Development Association.

The event will accurately represent the scale and nature of the losses Sligo suffered with participants being men, generally between the ages of 18 - 40 years. Each of the participants will personally represent a named Sligo casualty of the Great War.

With the help of a special advisory committee the theatre company has been working since May organising the event, with thirty project ambassadors currently recruiting participants throughout County Sligo to take part.

For the past number of weeks, The Sligo Champion has been running a half page of articles which will included information about the event, stories of Sligo men and their families who were involved in the Great War 1914 - 1918, and the history of its effect on the county.

For more details on Armistice Day or for some of the stories of the Sligo lives lost, contact historian Simone Hickey on simonehickey@gmail.com.

The event coincides with Remembrance Day and Veterans Day, and is a national holiday in France.

Sligo Champion

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