Honouring the Dead (Part 1)


As previously published in An Cosantóir in July 2011 issue.
By Paul O’Brien – Photos by Cpl Greg Dorney & Cpl Neville Coughlan

In the first two-days of Queen Elizabeth II’s state visit the British monarch took part in wreath-laying ceremonies with President Mary McAleese at the Garden of Remembrance and the Irish National War Memorial. Many people who watched these moving ceremonies on television were probably not familiar with the history of these gardens.

Garden of Remembrance1

Located in Parnell Square, at the northern end of O’Connell Street, the Garden of Remembrance is dedicated to the memory of all those who gave their lives in the cause of Irish freedom.

In 1935 the government acquiesced to a request from the Dublin Brigade Veterans Association that a remembrance memorial should be constructed in Dublin city. Part of the Rotunda Gardens in Parnell Square was chosen as the site due to its historical significance: the Irish Volunteer movement was founded in the nearby Rotunda in 1913 and it was within these gardens that many of those taken prisoner after the 1916 Rising were kept overnight before being moved to Richmond Barracks and Kilmainham Gaol.

Garden of Remembrance2

Although the new garden was designed by Daithí P Hanlon as early as 1946, its construction only commenced in 1961. It is cruciform in shape and has a curving twelve-foot high, marble wall enclosing it from the rear. Access to the central pedestrian area is via a descending flight of steps that lead to a tranquil pool. The bed of the pool is decorated in a mosaic pattern of blue-green waves interspersed with weapons from Ireland’s Heroic Age. The weapons are depicted as broken because according to Celtic custom weapons were broken and cast in to the river at the end of a battle. As well as signifying the end of hostilities, many believe this was a votive offering to the gods for victory.
The railings surrounding the lawns are decorated with cast designs of the Loughnashade Trumpet and the Ballinderry Sword, all of which are pointing downwards to indicate peace.

Garden of Remembrance3

The centrepiece, Oisín Kelly’s eight-ton, 25-foot high, bronze sculpture of the Children of Lir, cast at the Marinelli foundry in Florence, Italy, was inspired by WB Yeats’s poem ‘1916’. The concept was that at certain points in history people are transformed and the artist used the depiction of human figures transforming into swans, symbolising rebirth, victory and resurrection, as in the mythological tale of the Children of Lir.

On the wall a poem entitled ‘We saw a Vision’, by Liam Mac Uistin, reads:-

In the darkness we saw a vision.
We lit the light of hope and it was not extinguished.
In the desert of discouragement we saw a vision.
We planted the tree of valour and it blossomed
In the winter of bondage we saw a vision.
We melted the snow of lethargy and the river of resurrection flowed from it.
We sent our vision aswim like a swan on the river. The vision became a reality.
Winter became summer. Bondage became freedom and this we left to you as your inheritance.
O generations of freedom remember us, the generations of the vision.

Garden of Remembrance4

President Eamon De Valera officially opened the Garden of Remembrance on Easter Monday, 1966, the golden jubilee of the 1916 Rising. The Office of Public Works (OPW) maintains the gardens.

Paul O’Brien is a military historian and published author, his website is: www.paulobrienauthor.ie

Read these stories and more in An Cosantóir (The Defender), The official magazine of the Irish Defence Forces – www.dfmagazine.ie

Uachtarán na hÉireann – President Mary McAleese


As published in An Cosantóir in November 2011.
By Sgt Wayne Fitzgerald – Photographs by Corporal Greg Dorney & 105 Sqn

PresidentAfter her recent visit to Lebanon and coming in to her last few weeks in office after her great tenure of service to our nation, the president spoke briefly to An Cosantóir about her memories of the Defence Forces.

Under the constitution, Supreme Command of the Defence Forces is vested in the President. What does this role entail, and how has it manifested itself during your 14 years in office?

President departs bal 03Operational command of the Defence Forces is vested in the Minister and the Government but the Supreme Command of the Defence Forces is vested in the President – a role often referred to as Commander in Chief and one that I was anxious to signify by developing an active relationship with the Defence Forces both at home and abroad. The staff in the Aras ADC’s office have become my friends and colleagues these past fourteen years and of course members of the Defence Forces have played a central role in all the ceremonial duties of the Presidency. I had regular meetings and briefings with various Chief’s of Staff, visited many barracks, accompanied the troops twice on their Military Pilgrimages to Lourdes, invited retired members of the Defence Forces and families of serving soldiers to the Aras, took part in commemoration ceremonies, was transported safely to various destinations by the Air Corps and was particularly proud to be the first President to visit our troops serving overseas with the United Nations, of Ireland’s most important national engagements with the wider world is our peacekeeping work with the United Nations. Ireland’s Defence Forces have served for over fifty years with outstanding distinction and considerable sacrifice. I wanted to honour and draw attention to that work and so my first and last foreign visits as President were to Irish troops serving in Lebanon, where forty seven of our troops died in the service of peace, more than any of the other foreign armies serving there. It has been an abiding theme of my Presidency to acknowledge the immense contribution of our Defence Forces since the foundation of the State.

You have visited many overseas missions during your time, is there any one that stands out the most?

President troops4

President McAleese meets her security element while visiting Irish troops in Lebanon, October 14, 2011.

Each visit abroad stands out in terms of the sheer professionalism of our soldiers and each carries very special images but there was something dreadfully poignant about Liberia, which I visited in late 2004. The place was a mess with virtually no infrastructure, a wickedly hot climate, with troops patrolling in temperatures that could soar to 50 degrees centigrade. They didn’t complain, just got on with their work and in their spare time helped out at a hospice for people dying of Aids. In a country mired in chaos their positivity and simple decency were so needed and appreciated.

Both Ireland and the Defence Forces have changed substantially over the past 14 years. How important a contribution do you think the three services of the Defence Forces make to the State today?

President troops1

President McAleese meets her troops from the 102 Battalion before they deploy to Chad, December 16, 2009.

The Defence Forces have been a rock solid centre of gravity since the foundation of the State, an essential element in Ireland’s early pathway to stability and democracy and today they are part of the warp and weft of our civic life at home while abroad they are the outward expression of Ireland’s commitment to global peace. The loyalty of our Army, Air Corps and Naval Service to Ireland and her values has been exemplary. They showcase to the highest level of professionalism and integrity what big things a small, militarily neutral country has to contribute to global peace. It was a proud moment for me, though no surprise, to hear General Asarta who is the current Commander of UNIFIL say that the people of South Lebanon begged him to bring the Irish troops back to Lebanon because their experience of them had been so good.

What memories will you bring with you of the Defence Forces?

President troops3

President McAleese presents the troops with their UNIFIL Service medals, October 14, 2011.

I have many great memories of our Defence Forces, some relating to events at home others to visits overseas. The enormous contribution of our Defence Forces during the visit of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth was particularly memorable and evoked pride across the entire land. I have loved the Guards of Honour, the Bands with their wonderful marching tunes, the Cadets at Garden of Remembrance, the Buglers, the Artillery, the Air Corps with the fly past, the care for one another when serving abroad, the shocking all consuming sadness when a member of the Defence Forces died and the camaraderie that was so evident at funerals and commemorations. I remember the combined Irish army and civilian medical relief teams that went to Honduras after Hurricane Mitch and that my husband Martin was so honoured to serve two rotations with. The stories of those days are regularly told and retold and always the core story is of Irish soldiers who can through sheer can-do determination and skill, work miracles in the most difficult of conditions.

“I take this opportunity to thank the Defence Forces and their families for their truly wonderful support and friendship during my time in office. I could never hope to repay them but hope they know the pride and respect they evoke in me, in every Irish person and in all whose paths they cross. Those who serve today are building on a very proud tradition and I know from direct experience that they will honour that tradition brilliantly.”

Read these stories and more in An Cosantóir (The Defender) The official magazine of the Irish Defence Forces – www.dfmagazine.ie