Inter-Church Forum’s War memorial meeting discusses past and present differences

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THE January speaker for the Cookstown Inter-Church Forum meeting was Mr John Ritchie who give a presentation on Irish War Memorials.

One of those in attendance at the meeting said: “The subject of remembrance in Ireland, is like so many other topics, not without controversy. The period before World War One, with the proposed Home Rule legislation, helped to feed into the different approaches in remembering the dead of that ghastly conflict.

Other factors included the signing of the Ulster Covenant in 1912, the rise of the UVF and the IVF, with the consequent gun-running in Larne and Howth during 1914. The Easter Rising in April 1916 polarised political thinking even more, making it very difficult to find a middle way out of the impasse. Although the Great War ended in 1918, the political differences in Ireland ensured that conflict in Ireland was far from over, indeed it was 1923 before there was an uneasy peace in the new Free State.

These differences were apparent in inscriptions on war memorials, with some in Northern Ireland indicating that those who had made the supreme sacrifice had done so “for king and country”, while others in the Free State proclaimed that they had “died for Ireland.”

The memorial in Cork City reads; “they died for the freedom of small nations.” The town of Bandon exemplifies the divergences in politics more than most, having no less than three memorials. At one end of the town stands the memorial to the “West Cork Brigade of the I.R.A. 1916-1923”, while at the other end there is a statue of Sean Hales, one of the leaders of the Free State who was assassinated in 1922, by some of those commemorated on the aforesaid memorial.

Then in 1998, another memorial was unveiled, to the soldiers of Bandon and District who had given their lives, some of whom were in the British Army. The most poignant inscription perhaps, is that on the Tom Kettle memorial in Stephen’s Green; “died not for king nor emperor, but for a dream born in a herdsman’s shed, and for the secret scriptures of the poor.” These words encapsulate what many of the soldiers, of whatever political persuasion felt during and after the slaughter and hardships they had experienced in the “war to end all wars.” Surely, the best way that we can remember them is by working and praying that the day will soon come, when men will “beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks”, and when ‘the glory of God will cover the earth, as the waters cover the sea’.”