Speech by Minister Madigan at the Armistice Day Centenary Commemoration
Check Against Delivery
Chairman, (of Glasnevin Trust, John Green),
Councillor McGinley, (who is representing the Lord Mayor of Dublin),
Your Excellencies and members of the Diplomatic Corps,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Ar son Rialtas na hÉireann, is mór an onóir dom bheith libh inniu chun theacht i bhfeidhm Sos Cogadh an Chéad Chogadh Domhanda, céad bliain ó shin, a thabhairt chun cuimhne.
Today, we reflect upon the unprecedented scale of death and suffering that was endured during the world’s first industrial war.
We remember the millions of men and women, soldiers and civilians, from many nations who paid the ultimate price in that terrible conflict.
We remember the dead of this island, unionist and nationalist, from North and South, who fought and died together on Flanders Fields.
We remember those who survived the conflict but returned home to new political realities right across Europe, including here in Ireland, often times carrying a burden of physical injury and private grief.
Ná déanaimís dearmad orthu go deo.
I welcome the presence of the Ambassadors and diplomatic representatives, who have joined us in recognition of our shared loss and shared remembrance.
The helmets beside us, in front of the France-Ireland Memorial, are a stark and vivid reminder of the human suffering and loss. The horrors of the battlefield left deep and lasting scars on those who survived, traumas which were often compounded by their difficult experiences on returning home.
It is currently estimated that at least 35,000 men and women from the island of Ireland did not make that journey home, leaving countless families and communities to grieve their loss.
Over the past four years, we have explored, with respect and compassion, the differing motivations of those from this island, of all traditions, who lost their lives – we will never know how they would have contributed to this land, had they not died before their time. The Decade of Centenaries has shone a light on their stories, many of which were never previously heard.
New archival sources; the many inclusive commemorative ceremonies; and the contribution of the media, have led to a deeper and more open understanding of the influences and differing motivations for the thousands of Irish men and women who chose to enlist in that terrible conflict. The very important work of historians, custodians of records, librarians, educators and cultural practitioners, has fostered authentic historical enquiry and discussion, debate and analysis. This form of public discourse is essential for any honest exploration of our history.
By promoting commemorations that are inclusive and seek to strengthen peace and reconciliation on the island of Ireland, we have promoted also a deeper exploration of differing perspectives on our shared history. We have shown maturity and understanding in reflecting upon our shared history and in giving those who fought in the cause of Irish freedom and in World War I their rightful place in history.
We have learned that the exploration of our historical narrative can be an empowering, enriching and healing process, which encourages us to look to the future and the values that we wish to preserve for the generations to come.
If I may quote Sir Jeffrey Donaldson MP, Chairman of the Northern Ireland First World War Centenary Committee, who has written so powerfully on the themes of remembrance and reconciliation, in the Government’s commemorative booklet which you received today:
‘…this is our shared history, and our remembrance of the men and women from both traditions on this island, who fought and fell in that war, should not be a point of division between us. … Over the last six years, we have shared many memorable days together. … There have been special moments that not long ago would have been unthinkable….’
‘Far from being purely symbolic, a deeper understanding, tolerance and respect has flowed from these occasions. Relationships built that have already proved their worth, and will last. No one’s unionism or nationalism is diminished as a result’.
These words have a deep resonance for me, when I reflect upon the experiences of the men and women from the island of Ireland who served in World War I and on our relationships today.
100 years on the from the end of that conflict which tore apart the old European order, we are now, on this island, grappling with a new challenge in repositioning Ireland and Britain’s place in Europe.
If we can move forward, with a willingness to approach the consideration of the difficult legacies of our past with understanding, empathy and a generosity of spirit, we will truly honour all of those who gave their lives side by side 100 years ago. It is not easy. It challenges us to open our hearts to each other in a spirit of mutual respect and kindness; to acknowledge our common humanity; to be respectful of continuing sensitivities of historical remembrance; and to remember that our sense of what it means to be Irish can embrace many intertwined traditions and identities. If these principles remain our guiding lights, we will continue together on our journey towards reconciliation, navigating the challenges ahead with confidence and with courage.
Sir Jeffrey Donaldson concluded his reflection by quoting Captain Willie Redmond’s words, which were ‘written in the winter of 1916 after the carnage of the Somme’. It is, I think, fitting that I leave you with Captain Redmond’s prophetic and powerful hope:
‘It would be a fine memorial to the men who have died so splendidly if we could, over their graves, build up a bridge between North and South’.
Let us, on this unique day, recommit to that work.
Go raibh maith agaibh go léir.