The “once-forgotten” heroism of Irish soldiers during the Great War was highlighted during a recent Orange event – by a senior diplomat from the Republic.
In a first for Scottish Orangeism and a further sign of normalising British-Irish relations, Consul General Mark Hanniffy delivered the inaugural Thomas Orr memorial lecture in Glasgow.
Addressing prominent Orangemen, women, elected representatives and invited guests, the Irish ambassador delivered a thought-provoking speech on the theme of Ireland’s contribution to the First World War.
Mr Hanniffy focused primarily on the role of nationalists from Ireland and how they enlisted in large numbers in the British Army to fight German aggression.
Over 210,000 Irishmen served during World War One. Since there was no conscription, about 140,000 of these joined during the war as volunteers. While northern unionists enlisted to form the almost wholly Protestant 36th (Ulster) Division, nationalists, themselves mostly Catholic, joined the 10th (Irish) and 16th (Irish) Divisions.
Mr Hanniffy explained how the courageous men of the latter divisions served bravely on the front line. The Irish National War Memorial at Islandbridge in Dublin records as many as 49,400 who never returned home after the conflict.
Referencing the impact of Home Rule and the Easter Rising during the war years, Mr Hanniffy said: “The historiography of the period became dominated by the clash between unionism and nationalism, and perhaps through nationalist neglect ownership of the legacy of the First World War in Ireland became almost exclusively associated with the Irish unionist tradition.”
Indeed, Tom Kettle, a former nationalist MP who was killed on the Somme serving with the 16th Division, had predicted: “These men (the 1916 Easter rebellion leaders) will go down in history as heroes and martyrs; and I will go down – if I go down at all – as a bloody British officer.”
However, the consul general welcomed the more nuanced understanding of WW1 which has developed in the Republic.
He pointed to the joint participation by the Irish government, alongside their British counterparts and members of the Royal Family, marking significant Great War anniversaries in this ongoing decade of centenaries.
He concluded: “Let our shared commitment to remembrance and commemoration help us to make reconciliation between the communities and the nations that share these islands the true and lasting monument to their bravery and to their sacrifice.”
In what is anticipated to be an annual lecture, the new event is a tribute to Thomas Orr, who was Glasgow’s first county grand master. He was also a former imperial president and grand master of Scotland.
Relatives of the late Orangeman were among the audience at Glasgow’s Royal Concert Hall.
The Grand Lodge of Ireland was represented at the event by Grand Secretary Rev Mervyn Gibson and Grand Treasurer Brian Dorrian.
Rev Gibson said: “This was a welcome, and particularly noteworthy and significant, speech by Consul General Hanniffy. I commend the County Grand Lodge of Glasgow and the Irish government for this joint initiative.
“As the nation comes together this weekend to commemorate the war dead, it is important we remember all those, regardless of background, who paid the ultimate sacrifice on our behalf.”
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