Island of Ireland Peace Park

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Island of Ireland Peace Park
Belgium
Tower, Irish Peace Park, Mesen, Belgium.jpg
The Peace Park's symbolic Irish Round Tower.
For the soldiers of the island of Ireland who died, were wounded or are missing from World War I
Unveiled November 11, 1998 (1998-11-11)
Location 50°45′35.28″N 2°53′41.13″E / 50.7598000°N 2.8947583°E / 50.7598000; 2.8947583
near Mesen, West Flanders, Belgium
Designed by Traditional Irish round tower

The Island of Ireland Peace Park and its surrounding park (Irish: Páirc Síochána d'Oileán na h'Éireann), also called the Irish Peace Park or Irish Peace Tower in Messines, near Ypres in Flanders, Belgium, is a war memorial to the soldiers of the island of Ireland who died, were wounded or are missing from World War I, during Ireland's involvement in the conflict. The tower memorial is close to the site of the June 1917 battle for the Messines Ridge and was chosen because that battle witnessed one of the few where Irishmen, regardless of religion, fought side by side against a common enemy.[1]

Development[edit]

Because of the events of the Easter Rebellion in 1916 and the partition of Ireland under the Anglo-Irish Treaty in 1922 and the Irish Civil War that followed it, little was done in the Republic of Ireland to commemorate the Irish dead from the Great War or World War II. Those countries who were engaged in the Great War all preserve the memory of their fallen soldiers with national monuments in the Western Front area. This led to some ill-feeling in the already crowded emotions of the conflict on the island, and perhaps was highlighted when Northern Ireland's community's Ulster Tower Thiepval in France was one of the first memorials erected.[2]

This Tower memorial, however, serves not to "redress the balance" but rather to recall the sacrifices of those from the island of Ireland from all political and religious traditions who fought and died in the war.[citation needed] It also serves as a symbol of modern-day reconciliation. The Tower houses bronze cubicles containing record books listing the known dead, which are publicly accessible copies of the originals belonging to the National War Memorial, Islandbridge, Dublin.

The project was initiated by A Journey of Reconciliation Trust, a broad-based cross-border Irish organisation which hopes to bring together people of diverse beliefs. The Trust comprises representatives of the main churches in Ireland and professional political and representatives and community leaders from both parts of Ireland under the leadership of Paddy Harte and Glenn Barr.[3]

The building of the tower was marked by conflict over who would pay what towards the costs of construction.[4] Construction costs were finally met by contributions from the British and Irish governments and from commercial sponsors[3] but some problems with drainage, tree growth and surfacing in the park around the tower existed for the first few years. The park was subsequently restructured to its present design under the auspices of the Dublin City Council in 2004.

Design[edit]

The counties of Ireland,
symbolically run together.

The 110-foot (34 m) tower[5] is in the traditional design of an Irish round tower and is partially built with stone from a former British Army barracks in Tipperary, the remainder of the stone from a work-house outside Mullingar, County Westmeath.

The design has a unique aspect that allows the sun to light the interior only on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, the anniversary of the armistice that ended the war and the time for the minute's silence on Remembrance Day.[1]

A commemorative ceremony is held yearly in the park on that date, in conjunction with similar ceremonies at the nearby multi-national Menin Gate Memorial in Ypres.

Unveiling[edit]

The tower was unveiled after an 11 am service on 11 November 1998 by President Mary McAleese of Ireland, Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom and King Albert II of Belgium.

In her speech, President McAleese said:

Today's ceremony at the Peace Park was not just another journey down a well-travelled path. For much of the past eighty years, the very idea of such a ceremony would probably have been unthinkable.
Those whom we commemorate here were doubly tragic. They fell victim to a war against oppression in Europe. Their memory too fell victim to a war for independence at home in Ireland.

Mary McAleese[6]

Speaking at the official re-opening of the newly structured park on 7 June 2004, the Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs Dermot Ahern commented that honouring the spirit of all Irish people killed in the First World War can teach how to advance the Northern Ireland peace process, adding:

All those untold human stories that we lost in the first World War and more recently in the conflict in Northern Ireland, must be remembered. And, in remembering, they must not be told for nothing. They must not be told to deepen divisions. They must be told to inspire us to overcome them.

Dermot Ahern[7]

Peace Pledge plaque,
in the park's centre circle.

Peace Pledge[edit]

A bronze tablet on a granite pillar positioned in the centre circle of the park bears the following inscription, entitled:

Peace Pledge
From the crest of this ridge, which was the scene of terrific carnage in the First World War on which we have built a peace park and Round Tower to commemorate the thousands of young men from all parts of Ireland who fought a common enemy, defended democracy and the rights of all nations, whose graves are in shockingly uncountable numbers and those who have no graves, we condemn war and the futility of war. We repudiate and denounce violence, aggression, intimidation, threats and unfriendly behaviour.

As Protestants and Catholics, we apologise for the terrible deeds we have done to each other and ask forgiveness. From this sacred shrine of remembrance, where soldiers of all nationalities, creeds and political allegiances were united in death, we appeal to all people in Ireland to help build a peaceful and tolerant society. Let us remember the solidarity and trust that developed between Protestant and Catholic soldiers when they served together in these trenches.

As we jointly thank the armistice of 11 November 1918 – when the guns fell silent along this western front - we affirm that a fitting tribute to the principles for which men and women from the Island of Ireland died in both World Wars would be permanent peace.

The park[edit]

The three pillars giving the killed,
wounded and missing of the
three voluntary Irish Divisions.
Plaque commemorating the opening and dedication of the park.
Plaque overview of the Battle of Messines.
  • Inside the entrance gate on the left are four granite pillars with plaques in four languages (Irish, English, Dutch and French), commemorating the dedication and opening and dedication of the park on 11 November 1998.
  • The park surrounding the round tower contains thirteen smaller stone structures:
  • There are three pillars giving the killed, wounded and missing of each division
*36th (Ulster) Division – 32,186
*10th (Irish) Division – 9,363
*16th (Irish) Division – 28,398
  • An upright tablet listing the counties of Ireland, the names flowing together to suggest the unity of death
  • A bronze tablet depicting a plan of the battle area
  • Nine stone tablets with prose, poems and letters from Irish servicemen
Spent all night trying to console, aid and remove the wounded. It was ghastly to see them lying there in the cold, cheerless outhouses, on bare stretchers with no blankets to cover their freezing limbs.

Chaplain Francis Gleeson, Royal Munster Fusiliers

As it was, the Ypres battleground just represented one gigantic slough of despond into which floundered battalions, brigades and divisions of infantry without end to be shot to pieces or drowned, until at last and with immeasurable slaughter we had gained a few miles of liquid mud.

—Charles Miller, 2nd Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers

So here, while the mad guns curse overhead, and tired men sigh, with mud for couch and floor, know that we fools, now with the foolish dead, died not for Flag, nor King, nor Emperor, but for a dream born in a herdsman’s shed, and for the sacred scripture of the poor.

Tom Kettle, 9th Royal Dublin Fusiliers

In a matter of seconds, a hissing and shrieking pandemonium broke loose. The sky was splashed with light. Rockets, green, yellow and red, darted in all directions; and simultaneously, a cyclone of bursting shells enveloped us.

—JFB O’Sullivan, 6th Connaught Rangers

It is too late now to retrieve a fallen dream, too late to grieve a name unmade, but not too late to thank the Gods for what is great. A keen edged sword, a soldier’s heart is greater than a poet’s art. And greater than a poet’s fame a little grave that has no name.

Francis Ledwidge, 5th Inniskilling Fusiliers

I wish the sea were not so wide that parts me from my love, I wish that things men do below were known to God above. I wish that I were back again in the Glens of Donegal; they’ll call me coward if I return, but a hero if I fall.

Patrick MacGill, London Irish Rifles

Hostilities will cease at 11.00am on the 11th day of the 11th month. After that time all firing will cease. This was joyous news. Approaching eleven o'clock in our sector you could have heard a pin drop. When eleven o'clock came there were loud cheers. The war was over as far as we were concerned.

—Terence Poulter, 7th Royal Dublin Fusiliers

So the curtain fell, over that tortured country of unmarked graves and unburied fragments of men: Murder and massacre: The innocent slaughtered for the guilty: The poor man for the sake of the rich: The man of no authority made the victim of the man who had gathered importance and wished to keep it.

—David Starret, 9th Royal Irish Rifles

I mean the simple soldier man, who when the Great War first began, just died, stone dead from lumps of lead, in mire.

William Orpen, Official War Artist

Messines Peace Village[edit]

The completion of the Peace Park ultimately led to the development and construction of the Messines Peace Village, an international rural hostel equipped for seminars and meetings, ideal for associations, companies, youth and school groups.

The first stone was placed on 7 June 2005 by Taoiseach na hÉireann (Prime Minister of Ireland) Bertie Ahern in the presence of the Mayor of Messines, Sandy Evrard and the Flemish Minister of Administrative Affairs, Foreign Policy, Media and Tourism, Geert Bourgeois.

Only one year later, the Peace Village was officially opened. The inauguration took place on 7 June 2006 by the Irish Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dermot Ahern, the British Minister for Northern Ireland, David Hanson, the Flemish Minister of Administrative Affairs, Foreign Policy, Media and Tourism, Geert Bourgeois and Sandy Evrard, the Mayor of Messines.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b BBC News, 11 November 1998
  2. ^ Webmatters.net undated
  3. ^ a b Republic of Ireland Department for Foreign Affairs, 20 October 1998
  4. ^ Ypres and the Great War by Simon Farr
  5. ^ World of Hibernia December 1998, quoted in Find Articles
  6. ^ Irish President's website
  7. ^ The Irish Times, pg. 11 8 June 2006

External links[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Bryan Cooper (1918): The 10th (Irish) Division in Gallipoli, Irish Academic Press (1993), (2003) ISBN 0-7165-2517-8.
  • Cyril Falls: History of the 36th (Ulster) Division, Constable & Robinson (1996) ISBN 0-09-476630-4.
  • Desmond & Jean Bowen: Heroic Option: The Irish in the British Army, Pen & Sword Books (2005) ISBN 1-84415-152-2.
  • Keith Jeffery: Ireland and the Great War, Cambridge University Press, (November 2000) ISBN 0-521-77323-7.
  • Terence Denman: Ireland's unknown Soldiers: The 16th (Irish) Division in the Great War, Irish Academic Press (1992), (2003) ISBN 0-7165-2495-3.
  • Timothy Bowman: Irish Regiments in the Great War, Manchester University Press (2003), ISBN 0-7190-6285-3.
  • David Murphy: Irish Regiments in the World Wars, Osprey Publishing (2007), ISBN 978-1-84603-015-4
  • David Murphy: The Irish Brigades, 1685-2006, A gazetteer of Irish Military Service past and present, Four Courts Press (2007)
    The Military Heritage of Ireland Trust. ISBN 978-1-84682-080-9
  • Stephen Walker: Forgotten Soldiers; The Irishmen shot at dawn, Gill & Nacmillan (2007), ISBN 978-0-7171-4182-1
  • John Horne ed.: Our War 'Ireland and the Great War': The Thomas Davis Lectures, The Royal Irish Academy, Dublin (2008) ISBN 978-1-904890-50-8