Queen and President open Anglo-Irish peace tower

THE SUN was just disappearing over the crest of the Messines Ridge in the heart of rural Flanders yesterday when the Queen and the Irish President, Mary McAleese, stood together in a powerful symbol of armistice and reconciliation.

Eighty years after the guns of the First World War fell silent they made the pilgrimage to the only First World War battlefield where Irishmen from both North and South fought and died together for Britain. In a poignant and symbolic ceremony they inaugurated a 100ft-high peace tower to commemorate the Irish war-dead in Flanders and France.

The event at Messines was a remarkable development in the history of Anglo-Irish relations. For the Irish Republic it marked the ending of eight decades of official amnesia about the Great War. It was the first time that the Irish state had actively participated in a ceremony commemorating the southern Irish soldiers who volunteered to fight on Britain's side. In all, 210,000 Irishmen volunteered to fight on the Western Front; of the 50,000 who died, 30,000 were from the South.

The men commemorated yesterday truly were the war's forgotten heroes. They were "unsung, unhonoured and unwept" in the words of Billy Good, who had made the journey to Messines yesterday from Bandon, County Cork. Mr Good's father and uncle fought in the battles around Ypres.

Such has been the official indifference to Ireland's war dead that few in the Republic know that the youngest soldier to die for Britain in the war was John Condon, 14, from County Waterford. The first Victoria Cross went to Lieutenant Maurice Deace from Mullingar, County Westmeath.

Unlike their counterparts in the north of Ireland, the southern volunteers were shunned on their return. By then Ireland's heroes were the men who led the 1916 rising, not those who enlisted with the English enemy. The years of neglect were "tragic", according to Tom Burke, who led a large group of relatives of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers to Messines yesterday.

The little town of Messines, 10km south of Ypres, was decked with Irish tricolours and Union and Belgian flags as hundreds of locals lined the roads leading from the town to the battlefield as the Queen and the Irish President arrived.

For the first time the Irish and British Army bands played together and British and Irish pipers played a lament as the Queen, the President and King Albert of Belgium stood in silence before the new tower.

After a wreath-laying ceremony, a moving peace pledge was jointly read by the Southern Catholic and the Ulster Protestant who had instigated the Messines commemoration.

Paddy Harte, a former member of the Irish Parliament, and Glen Barr, a former militant loyalist, condemned war, and the futility of war: "As Protestants and Catholics we apologise for the terrible deeds we have done to each other and ask forgiveness," they said.

The tower which now stands on the Messines Ridge battlefield was built by the young unemployed from both sides of the Irish border, with stone brought from each of the 32 Irish counties. It has been designed to admit the sunlight every 11 November at 11am.

Mrs McAleese said yesterday's ceremony in Messines should be seen as a "redeeming of the memory" of the Irish who had died in the First World War. But she conceded it had taken the people of the Republic a long time to acknowledge their sacrifice.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
Inner sanctum: Tove Jansson and friends in her studio in 1992
booksWhat was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?
Arts and Entertainment
Singer songwriter Bob Dylan performs on stage
films
Arts and Entertainment
booksPhotographer Richard Young has been snapping celebrities at play for 40 years - but he says it wasn’t all fun and games
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Jenna Coleman, Peter Capaldi and Nick Frost star in the Doctor Who Christmas Special, Last Christmas
TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Commercial Property Lawyer - Cheshire

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: CHESHIRE MARKET TOWN - An exciting and rare o...

Austen Lloyd: Residential Property Solicitor - Hampshire

Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: NORTH HAMPSHIRE - SENIOR POSITION - An exciti...

Recruitment Genius: Gas Installation Engineer

£29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Gas Installation Engineer is required ...

Recruitment Genius: Domestic Gas Technical Surveyor

£28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Domestic Gas Technical Surveyor is req...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

Putin’s far-right ambition

Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

Escape to Moominland

What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?
Nightclubbing with Richard Young: The story behind his latest book of celebrity photographs

24-Hour party person

Photographer Richard Young has been snapping celebrities at play for 40 years. As his latest book is released, he reveals that it wasn’t all fun and games
Michelle Obama's school dinners: America’s children have a message for the First Lady

A taste for rebellion

US children have started an online protest against Michelle Obama’s drive for healthy school meals by posting photos of their lunches
Colouring books for adults: How the French are going crazy for Crayolas

Colouring books for adults

How the French are going crazy for Crayolas
Jack Thorne's play 'Hope': What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

Playwright Jack Thorne's latest work 'Hope' poses the question to audiences
Ed Harcourt on Romeo Beckham and life as a court composer at Burberry

Call me Ed Mozart

Paloma Faith, Lana del Ray... Romeo Beckham. Ed Harcourt has proved that he can write for them all. But it took a personal crisis to turn him from indie star to writer-for-hire
10 best stocking fillers for foodies

Festive treats: 10 best stocking fillers for foodies

From boozy milk to wasabi, give the food-lover in your life some extra-special, unusual treats to wake up to on Christmas morning
'I have an age of attraction that starts as low as four': How do you deal with a paedophile who has never committed a crime?

'I am a paedophile'

Is our approach to sex offenders helping to create more victims?
How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

Serco given Yarl’s Wood immigration contract despite ‘vast failings’
Green Party on the march in Bristol: From a lost deposit to victory

From a lost deposit to victory

Green Party on the march in Bristol
Putting the grot right into Santa's grotto

Winter blunderlands

Putting the grot into grotto
'It just came to us, why not do it naked?' London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital

'It just came to us, why not do it naked?'

London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital
In a world of Saudi bullying, right-wing Israeli ministers and the twilight of Obama, Iran is looking like a possible policeman of the Gulf

Iran is shifting from pariah to possible future policeman of the Gulf

Robert Fisk on our crisis with Iran