Remembering The Fallen

One the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month 1918, the First World War came to an end. Right up until the last minute the guns stayed firing.

You can listen to the final seconds of the conflict and the moment the guns fell silent in this recording

https://metro.co.uk/video/imperial-war-museum-approximate-end-wwi-1798600/?ito=vjs-link

The commemoration of the conflict in Ireland has always been a touchy subject. There was certainly a perception that the memory of the Great War had been overshadowed by the events such as the 1916 Rising and the Irish War of Independence. In recent decades, the inevitable distance of time has allowed for more recognition of the role played by Irish men and women in the conflict. We will likely never know exactly how many from Ireland lost their lives in the war. As well as the Irish regiments, there were Irish serving in British, American, Canadian, Australian and New Zealand armed forces, along with any number of civilian organisations involved in the war.

This weekend I was fortunate to attend a number of commemorative events in Cork to remember those who died 1914-1918. On Friday night there was an Evening of Remembrance in St Fin Barre’s Cathedral. This has become an annual event, organised by members of the Cork Branch, Western Front Association. This is always an especially poignant ceremony, featuring music, poetry and songs to commemorate not just those from Cork, or the Allied forces, but all of those who died in the war. The Lord Mayor of Cork, Cllr. Mick Flynn and the Bishop of Cork, Cloyne and Ross, Dr Paul Colton, delivered particularly moving speeches, reflecting on the impact of the war on their own families. They recognised also that even those who survived the war, often came back with physical and psychological wounds. Bishop Colton made an especially valid point about the impossibility of grasping the magnitude of those who died during the war and it’s immediate aftermath. Instead he advocated for focussing on the personal, of remembering those who died as individuals.

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St Fin Barre’s Cathedral

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Crowd gathering for the Evening of Remembrance

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WW1 memorial in the Cathedral

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WW1 Memorial in the Cathedral

Bishop Colton and the Dean of St Fin Barre’s Cathedral, Very Reverend Nigel Dunne, have also been engaged in a project the last four years in gathering together pictures of those from the diocese who died in the war.

Today there were a number of events held at the Cenotaph in Cork, to mark Armistice Day. There was a civic ceremony organised by the Lord Mayor and members of Cork City Council. This was followed by a mass in St Francis Church and a wreath laying ceremony at the Cenotaph by members of the Royal British Legion and relatives of those who died. The ceremony also includes members of the current Irish Defence Forces, veterans of the United Nations and even the British Armed Forces. Bishop Colton also delivered another address and there was a later Ecumenical service in St Fin Barre’s Cathedral.

The act of commemoration itself cannot help but be political and likely there will always be those who feel that by commemorating a conflict we are signalling approval. However, I would disagree with this. We may not agree with why WW1 or any other conflict is fought but that doesn’t mean we should simply forget it and those who fought. Commemoration doesn’t have to be about approval or condemnation. As the events in France today have shown, where the French President and German Chancellor stood side by side at Compiègne as they marked the centenary of the armistice signing, commemorating the end of the war can also be about present unity and learning from the mistakes of the past.

Regardless of how we feel about conflicts past and present, we should never forget those who have lost their lives, no matter how complicated their motives. If you are looking to trace your own relatives who served during WW1, most of the major genealogical websites such as Ancestry, Findmypast and MyHeritage have made their military collections available for free this weekend.

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Remembrance Weekend

Great War Memorial on South Mall, Cork

Great War Memorial  South Mall, Cork

On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918, the guns of the Western Front fell silent after more than four years of continuous conflict. What was originally hoped to be a short and limited European war, ‘over by Christmas’, turned into a period of prolonged stalemate which enveloped the world. As part of the British Empire at the time, Ireland became embroiled in the conflict. The current estimate is that 200,000 Irishmen served in the conflict, although this is a difficult number to be sure of. With many Irish living abroad and enlisting in regiments in their new homes, it can be hard to know for certain how many were involved. It is estimated that between 30,000 to 50,000 lost their lives (depending on whether you count just those serving with Irish regiments or Irish enlisting in other armies).

Until recent years it would seem that the role of the rish in WW1 was ignored and overlooked due to the focus on the events of Easter 1916 and the subsequent War of Independence in Ireland. Fortunately perceptions of the conflict have changed, although it still remains a controversial subject for some, especially the practice of wearing a poppy. Our Taoiseach has today laid a wreath in Enniskillen as part of their Remembrance Sunday events and our Minister for Foreign Affairs was a participant in Belfast events. Our President has attended the Remembrance service in St Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin.

Members of the Cork branch, Western Front Association

Members of the Cork branch, Western Front Association

Here in Cork we are fortunate to have a number of groups and individuals who are very dedicated to commemorating those who served in the Great War. Over the last few years the members of the Cork branch, Western Front Association have organised a number of events over the weekend closest to November 11th. On the Friday they hold an Evening of Remembrance in St Fin Barre’s Cathedral. This is always a truly moving event combining songs, music, stories and poetry. On the Saturday they organise is a gathering at the WW1 memorial on the South Mall in Cork for a wreath laying ceremony. Both the Lord Mayor of Cork and the Mayor of Cork County delivered speeches. On the Sunday a seperate ceremony is held by members of the Royal British Legion, along with a number of special masses.

Lord Mayor of Cork, Cllr Chris O'Leary

Lord Mayor of Cork, Cllr Chris O’Leary

Crowd gathered at the WW1 memorial for the wreath laying

Crowd gathered at the WW1 memorial for the wreath laying

From a genealogical point of view these commemoration events can be very important. We don’t have to approve of the War or why and how it was fought. But it is important to remember those who lost their lives in the conflict. Every family in Ireland would have known someone who enlisted to fight in the War and each had their own reasons for doing so. These commemoration events help us to learn more about the lives our ancestors lived and to appreciate who they were. Too often when we read about these conflicts it can seem like an endless stream of numbers and big battles. But by commemorating them, we realise that each of these numbers was a living breathing individual at one point with a story to tell.

As part of the Rembrance weekend, Ancestry have opened up their WW1 records to explore for free. Usually I’m not one to plug the subscription websites, simply because they are so well known. However on this occasion it’s a great opportunity to search for your WW1 ancestors and see what sort of information might be out there.

WW1 Medal Roll

WW1 Medal Roll