Armistice day commemoration at Belfast cathedral
Belfast cathedral hosted a poignant commemoration on Sunday 11th November, marking the centenary of the signing of the armistice at the end of WWI.
Relatives of those who were killed or maimed in the 1914-1918 conflict gathered with others from all over Ireland, with links to that war, for a service broadcast live on BBC TV and radio (available to watch at https://tinyurl.com/y9ocz5pu).
HRH the Duke of York was in attendance and read a lesson. Other key figures included Secretary of State, Karen Bradley; HM Lord Lt for the City of Belfast, Fionnuala Jay-O’Boyle; Irish government minister, Damien English; city councillors and politicians.
Also in the congregation, having flown to Belfast from New York, were Josh and Will De Wind, descendants of war hero Second Lt Edmund De Wind. De Wind was awarded a Victoria Cross for bravery at the second Battle of the Somme, at which he died in 1918. His name is carved on a pillar on the west front of Belfast cathedral.
HEALING BY REMEMBERING
Bishop Paul Colton was invited to give the oration on Remembrance Sunday, 11th November 2018, at the War Memorial in Cork. As with so many events across these islands, and indeed the world, it was to mark the centenary of the end of the First World War.
Interestingly, he suggested a memorial that lists the names of everyone from Cork, city and county, who died in the conflict. Some 4,200 men and women from Cork lost their lives. He said, “Is it not time that we should have one memorial where the humanity of Cork, city and county, regardless of religious affiliation, or none, are memorialised together?”
In his oration, he said: “We are here today simply to remember them; to remember the awfulness of it all, the deaths, the wounds, the scars, mental, emotional and physical, the gaps that stayed for ever – in individual lives, families, communities, societies and nations. Whatever our current outlook, we can all agree that people died; that there was unimaginable and ghastly suffering; and that the world has never been the same since. Our world still shudders.”
Up to 200,000 Irishmen fought in World War I. They fought with British forces for many reasons. 49,000 of these soldiers died in the conflict. Countless more were wounded. It was a conflict in which 14 million died. These are figures too vast to fully comprehend.
For those Irish soldiers returning from World War I the homecoming was often a difficult experience. The historical complexities of these islands meant that they could not often openly acknowledge their involvement. Whatever difficulties faced by returning soldiers, there was also something else – a lack of public acknowledgement of their involvement or sacrifice in that war. The impact of this has been felt on so many levels.
We are witnessing something profound taking place – a growing acknowledgement of the sacrifice of so many Irish soldiers and families, from that time. Also, a careful
reflection on the complexities of our history around that time.
Two things have helped to bring this change, and to bring some measure of healing. The first is in the public words spoken by political, civic and religious leaders.
President Michael D. Higgins led Ireland’s Armistice commemorations, at Glasnevin cemetery, on Remembrance Sunday. In his speech, he talked of how some returning soldiers experienced “a lack of understanding of either their service or their wounds and would struggle to find their place in a rapidly changing Ireland.”
He continued: “For many years, there was an uncertainty, even a reticence, to recognise the human reality of the First World War, and those who fought and died in it.” He also said: “In our public history, the reticence was reflected by a form of official amnesia that left a blank space in our public memory.
“That has now changed, as citizens across our island have begun to discover a greater – and perhaps too long-delayed – insight into the experience of their grandparents, great-grandparents and neighbours. With this excavation of the past, we have a far greater understanding of the motivation of those who enlisted in the war effort, and a better appreciation of the experience of the war, not only for those in uniform, but for civilians.”
What has also contributed to finding healing in remembering has been the Remembrance services and events that have taken place the length and breadth of this island. In the Gazette (26th Octboer 2018) we tried to note the sheer scale and variety of events involving the Church of Ireland. These have all contributed to a respectful and careful reflection on a period of enormous sacrifice and suffering.
We found ways to truly commemorate the sacrifice, suffering and loss experienced by so many. We also found a measure of healing in that process.
No matter which jurisdiction we live in, few of us can remember such a period of political flux as has been produced by Brexit. It is a time for calm heads and measured words. What do we need from our leaders now? We return to words of Ron Heifetz, quoted before in the Gazette.
Heifetz puts it simply: “In a crisis we tend to look for the wrong kind of leadership. We call for someone with answers, decision, strength and a map of the future, someone who knows where we ought to be going – in short, someone who can make hard problems simple … We should be calling for leadership that will challenge us to face problems for which there are no simple, painless solutions – problems that require us to learn new ways.”
Whatever our view of Brexit, this is the type of leadership needed. There is more of an appetite for it than we are often given credit for.
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Letters to the editor
Remembrance Sunday events
WHILST OTHERS have been quick to criticise Jeremy Corbyn’s sartorial choices, what I found most telling about the leader of the opposition’s presence at the Cenotaph on Sunday 11th November was that he was the only politician singing ‘O God our help in ages past’ without having to refer to the hymn sheet.
John Eoin Douglas
I AM appalled that on Remembrance Day the hymn ‘O God our help in ages past’, which has the line ‘They fly, forgotten as a dream’, is sung.
Dalkey, Co Dublin
LIFE IN THE CHURCH OF IRELAND 1600-1800
Author: Robert Wyse Jackson Publisher: Ballinakella Press
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