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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Sport
footballHe started just four months ago
News
Nigel Farage celebrates with a pint after early local election results in the Hoy and Helmet pub in South Benfleet in Essex
peopleHe has shaped British politics 'for good or ill'
News
One father who couldn't get One Direction tickets for his daughters phoned in a fake bomb threat and served eight months in a federal prison
people... (and one very unlucky giraffe)
Arts and Entertainment
Sink the Pink's 2013 New Year's Eve party
musicFour of Britain's top DJs give their verdict on how to party into 2015
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
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

Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant- NY- Investment Bank

Not specified: Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant Top tier investment bank i...

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Day In a Page

Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that? The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year

Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that?

The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year
Hollande's vanity project is on a high-speed track to the middle of nowhere

Vanity project on a high-speed track to nowhere

France’s TGV network has become mired in controversy
Sports Quiz of the Year

Sports Quiz of the Year

So, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry, his love of 'Bargain Hunt', and life as a llama farmer

Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry and his love of 'Bargain Hunt'

From Armstrong and Miller to Pointless
Sanchez helps Gunners hold on after Giroud's moment of madness

Sanchez helps Gunners hold on

Olivier Giroud's moment of madness nearly costs them
A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect