WW1 victims drawn from all traditions

Yesterday was a solemn and emotional day in Ireland and across the world as those from all backgrounds marked the centenary of the armistice which took effect on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month and brought an end to the First World War.

Irish people from north and south assembled at a range of venues to commemorate every courageous individual who lost their life in the appalling slaughter which was wrongly described as the war to end all wars.

The casualty levels for Irish soldiers, of all religions and none, are impossible to accurately calculate but it is widely believed that in the region of 50,000 and possibly many more died, with a much larger number seriously injured.

It is generally accepted that at the Battle of the Somme in 1916 alone, at least 3,500 of the fatalities had either unionist or nationalist heritage, and the impact on all sections of our society was devastating.

The huge difference between the two traditions was that, for many decades, formal remembrance ceremonies took place in unionist rather than nationalist districts of what became Northern Ireland, and were only staged in particularly low key circumstances south of the border.

A feeling existed rightly or wrongly that unionism was able to publicly acknowledge the sacrifice from the two world wars and nationalism, for a variety of reasons, both in the era after the 1916 Easter Rising and in the post 1968 upheaval, was not.

Significant changes have emerged over recent times, and the 100th anniversary of the Somme two years ago witnessed nationalists and unionists coming together across the island in symbolic displays, just as Dublin's Easter rebellion was also respected

Another important gesture arrived yesterday when President Michael D Higgins insisted that the inauguration for his second term of office should take place in the evening, rather than the morning as originally scheduled, to facilitate attendance at armistice events.

In an understated way, memoriam notices in The Irish News, as well as remembering victims of the conflict here, have also increasingly recognised the bravery of relatives who fought and died on foreign shores over a hundred years ago.

These are strongly positive developments, although it needs to be stressed that the wearing of the Poppy is a personal and voluntary gesture which loses all meaning if any attempts at duress are involved.

As Ireland, in all parts of our divided community, moves ahead during further periods of uncertainty, it is appropriate that, in a decade of centenaries, we recall and respect all those who were killed during one of the most turbulent and grief-stricken stages of our shared history.

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