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
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Life and Style
techPatent specifies 'anthropomorphic device' to control media devices
Voices
The PM proposed 'commonsense restrictions' on migrant benefits
voicesAndrew Grice: Prime Minister can talk 'one nation Conservatism' but putting it into action will be tougher
News
Ireland will not find out whether gay couples have won the right to marry until Saturday afternoon
news
News
Kim Jong-un's brother Kim Jong-chol
news
News
Manchester city skyline as seen from Oldham above the streets of terraced houses in North West England on 7 April 2015.
news
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

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?