Tuesday, November 20, 2018

World War 1 Commemorations November 2018

The First World War figured prominently in events held over the last week or so here in Athy and in the county town of Naas. The centenary of the last day of the war which accounted for the loss of almost 10 million lives was marked with a variety of events all of which well attended, attesting to the now widely held belief that the men who enlisted in the British Army during 1914-’18 are a valued part of our Irish history. The commemorations here in Athy started with the Athy Dramatic Society’s presentation of David Walsh’s ‘The Bravest Little Town in the World’. The exaggerated claim in the title did not detract from the very moving tribute in words and song to the men from south Kildare who died in the war. Remembering that those young men, while answering the call to arms of Athy’s parish priest and the chairman of the Urban Council, did so despite the opposition of the local Sinn Fein club, I was pleasantly surprised to see two members of the Dooley family on stage. Michael Dooley was chairman of Athy’s Sinn Fein Club in 1917 and like all non-Redmondite republicans opposed enlistment during the 1914-’18 war. The participation of his great grandson, Brian Dooley, and Brian’s daughter Sara in the show to remember the war sacrifices of south Kildare, was confirmation, if such was needed, that our history extends far beyond our national boundaries. On Saturday 10th November Kildare Archaeological Society organised a seminar to mark the end of the Great War. Held in Kilashee Hotel, it attracted a large audience to hear talks on a variety of war related topics given by eminent academics and historians. The keynote address of the seminar was given by Professor Diarmuid Ferriter of U.C.D. on ‘The Triumphant Sinn Fein in 1918’. The next day Kildare County Council commemorated the County Kildare soldiers of World War I with a ceremony in the grounds of the Council offices which at one time formed part of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers depot. It was from there that those Athy men who joined the Dublin Fusiliers were billeted before they moved overseas. The ceremony brought together many from around the county and on leaving all of us received a copy of the specially printed booklet listing the County Kildare men who died during the 1914-’18 war. ‘Remembrance – the Eleventh Hour 1914-1918’ is an advance publication in anticipation of a more detailed and complete book on County Kildare’s World War 1 dead which the County Council will publish next year. At Athy that Sunday afternoon I was part of the attendance at the largest World War I commemoration event in County Kildare that day. I was quite surprised to see such a big turnout, the largest ever seen at this Remembrance Sunday event which started almost 20 years ago. I remember that very first Remembrance Sunday event in St. Michael’s cemetery. The small group which came together that first occasion largely comprised family members of the organisers, John MacKenna, David Walsh and my own family. The numbers attending increased each year the event was held and it has been an annual event which in this centenary year drew the largest audience ever. In fact, I believe the numbers in St. Michael’s Cemetery on Sunday afternoon exceeded the numbers attending the morning event in Naas and that large attendance demonstrated that Athy ‘the bravest little town in the world’ is justifiably proud of its past. The final tribute to the Athy soldiers of World War I will be held on Sunday (18th November) when Kevin Morrin and his band play at the Clanard Court Hotel. Band member Vincent Crowley penned his song ‘Tomorrow’s Heroes’ which grew out of stories which he heard of times past in Athy and of the men who fought in and returned from the war. ‘Down along through Leinster Street | In the Autumn Rain Come tomorrows heroes | marching to the train October nineteen fourteen | and the “Great” War has begun. “They’ll be home by Christmas | and all the battles won” With pride the army’s gathering our sons New uniforms new boots and shiny Guns’. The singer, Kevin Morrin, will launch the song during the Clanard Court concert on Sunday. The Irish people’s changed attitude to commemorating the dead of World War I is due more than anything else to the writings over many years of Kevin Myers. It is a great shame that the Kildare based writer was not a speaker at the Archaeological Society event or a participant in the County Council commemoration in Naas.

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