100 years after the death of his grand-uncle at the Battle of Passchendaele, Archbishop Eamon Martin reflects on the need to remember all who fought in WWI
Edited Homily at Mass in remembrance of all those from Inishowen who were killed or injured in the Great War
22 September 2017, Church of the Sacred Heart, Muff, Co Donegal, followed by the unveiling of a plaque at Saint Patrick’s Church, Iskaheen
One hundred years ago last Tuesday, my granduncle Edward Doherty was killed while fighting on the Western front. I found his grave last year while on a visit to the battlefields of World War One with Archbishop Richard Clarke and a group of young Catholics and Protestants from north and south.
He is buried in Canada Farm Cemetery about five miles outside Ypres in Belgium. I knelt down and prayed at the white Portland headstone which reads:
Gunner E Doherty, Royal Garrison Artillery, 19th September 1917, age 33.
So there he lies, in Flanders fields, another young man among the half a million who perished within three months in the infamous battle of Passchendaele.
Edward’s brother Patrick also joined up. He fought in the Dardanelles and in the Middle East, but thankfully he returned home from war to his family and went on to live a long life working on the trams in Glasgow. He is buried in the old graveyard at Iskaheen near my great grandparents, Alice and Edward.
I tell their stories conscious that many of you have similar stories handed down in your own families of men from all over Inishowen who died or were injured in the so-called “Great War”. When I visited Flanders I promised that I would come here to Inishowen and offer Mass for their souls.
Sadly, because of the cruel and crazy tensions of our own conflict, the many thousands of Irish Catholics who died in the First World War have perhaps not been adequately remembered. For decades the fact that Irish Catholics and Protestants fought and died, side by side, was somewhat neglected – perhaps conveniently – by all sides. People preferred to cling on to a history of difference and separation, rather than recognise and embrace our shared story of common suffering.
A few months ago, as the grandnephew of Edward Doherty from Meedenmore, I felt honoured to stand at Messines Peace Park in Belgium alongside other Church leaders to pray for peace and for an end to war and conflict everywhere.
Three granite blocks remind visitors to Messines of those from the island of Ireland who were killed, wounded or missing one hundred years ago: 32,000 from the 36th Ulster division; 28,000 from the 16th Irish division and 9,000 from the 10th Irish division.
I know that standing at war memorials, wearing poppies and laying wreaths may not have been part of my tradition or growing up, but remembering, honouring and praying for the dead is important to the practice of my faith. In recent years I have grown to respect and understand more fully that, whilst we may remember in different ways, what unites us is so much greater and stronger than anything that is talked up to divide us.
Our families have shared the awful pain that war brings – the grief, loss and heartache that is part of losing someone you love and hold dear. But our souls also share a longing for God’s peace.
In celebrating a Mass in Inishowen and by unveiling of a simple plaque at Iskaheen in honour of all those from Inishowen who died in the First World War, I hope that I have taken a small step in building greater understanding and reconciliation, whilst acknowledging the sacrifice and bravery of our ancestors who so selflessly gave up their lives.
“At the going down of the sun and in the morning, We will remember them”.