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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European Connections

When most of us research migration from Ireland we tend to focus on places such as the UK, Australia, New Zealand, the United States and Canada. Countries that are considered part of the English speaking world. This is probably not surprising. After all it is much easier to decipher these records when they are in a language you understand. However, a recent trip abroad got me thinking about a lesser known aspect of Irish migration to mainland Europe.

I had been selected to speak at the Society for the Study of Nineteenth Century Ireland 2017 conference. The conference was hosted by the Leuven Institute for Ireland in Europe at KU Leuven, Belgium. Leuven is a stunning medieval city located 25 kilometres (16 miles) from Brussels. I was there to speak on responses to landlord authority in South Tipperary after the Famine but being there also got me thinking about the Irish connections to Europe.

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The Irish College in Leuven

It might seem strange to have a conference on 19th century Ireland hosted in an Irish college located in Belgium. But it is easy to overlook the historic connections between Belgium and Ireland. During WW1, the German invasion of Belgium was used as a recruiting tool by the British army to convince Irish men to enlist. Comparisons were drawn with Belgium as another small, predominantly Catholic country. Countless Irish soldiers lost their lives and remain buried in the battlefields of Flanders.

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The connections with Belgium and with Leuven go back much further though. After the Reformation in Britain and the expanding Tudor conquests in Ireland, many Irish priests and nobles fled persecution and sought sanctuary with sympathetic regimes in places such as France, Spain and Belgium. The Irish College was founded in 1607 by the Irish Franciscan, Florence Conry, who was himself the product of an Irish College, having studied in Salmanca. The role of the Irish College as a focal point of Irish and European affairs was already demonstrated in the winter of 1607 when Florence Conry brought Hugh O’Neill and his retinue to Leuven following their departure from Ireland in what became known as the Flight of the Earls.

Mícheál Ó Cléirigh was the most distinguished historian of the Franciscan project in Leuven. He was born Tadgh a’ tsléibhe Ó Cléirigh in Kilbarron, Co Donegal into the learned family of Uí Cléirigh who had practised bardic poetry and history in the Gaelic tradition throughout the late middle ages. From 1626 to 1637 Ó Cléirigh travelled the length and breadth of Ireland methodically collecting and copying manuscripts. To assist him in this work he brought together three other scholars Cú Choigríche Ó Cléirigh (Donegal), Cú Choigríche Ó Duibhgeannáin (Leitrim), and Fear Feasa Ó Maoil Chonaire (Roscommon). The result was the Annals of the Four Masters, the most celebrated work of the Irish College in Leuven.

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Leuven was just one of many Irish colleges founded throughout Europe and many still exist to this day. The first Irish College was founded in 1592 at Salamanca, by 1611 there were twelve Irish colleges in Spain, France and the Low Countries. At its height, the network of colleges included more than 30 institutions and stretched from the Atlantic to the Baltic. This growing educational movement mirrored the increasing integration and influence of Irish migrants throughout the kingdoms and principalities of Europe. Many modern European universities have a dedicated Irish department, dedicated to the study of Irish literature and history. Some of the speakers at the conference were students of these universities and offered intriguing perspectives on aspects of Irish culture as seen from Europe.

To this day there are many descendants of those Irish who created a new life for themselves on the continent. Some became soldiers in European armies, creating dedicated Irish brigades. Others became merchants (such as the so called Wine Geese), helping to create and enhance trade routes between Ireland and Europe.

So we shouldn’t forget that the Irish connection extends far beyond the English speaking world.

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The Oude Markt, Leuven