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British and Irish Army bands in harmony as they join to salute fallen

By Adrian Rutherford

Published 12/09/2016

The Irish Defence Force’s Army No 1 Band playing with the Band of the Royal Irish Regiment in Enniskillen
The Irish Defence Force’s Army No 1 Band playing with the Band of the Royal Irish Regiment in Enniskillen

British and Irish military bands have played together for the first time in Northern Ireland in an historic Beating Retreat ceremony.

They performed a Salute to the Somme on the 100th anniversary of the day the 16th (Irish) Division and the 36th (Ulster) Division faced foes together on the front line.

The Irish Defence Force's Army No 1 Band and the Band of the Royal Irish Regiment, as well as bugles, pipes and drums of the 1st and 2nd Battalions of the Royal Irish, presented a unique medley of Irish military music.

Organised by The Inniskillings Museum at Enniskillen Castle, Saturday's event was described by curator Neil Armstrong as a "fitting first" to mark a huge sacrifice by two Irish divisions.

For one man on parade, the Salute to the Somme was very poignant.

Stephen Murphy, a Regimental Sergeant Major with 2 Royal Irish, can trace his family's military history back almost 200 years. Both his grandfathers fought at the Somme with the Royal Dublin Fusiliers.

He said Saturday's event was "moving".

His commanding officer, Lt Colonel Dave Kenny, said the event resonates across all of Ireland. "Music plays a major role in Irish culture and this is reflected in military music," he said.

"Our own regimental march can be traced back centuries to the Connaught Rangers."

The 16th and 36th Divisions were authorised in September 1914. Their composition reflected the differing political and religious divisions in Ireland, which had brought the country to the brink of civil war in early 1914.

The 16th (Irish) Division's soldiers were mainly nationalist, Catholic and loyal to the idea of Irish self-government.

Many of them had been in the Irish Volunteer movement to defend Home Rule.

All the Irish infantry regiments of the line served in the 16th: the Royal Irish Regiment, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, Royal Irish Rifles, Royal Irish Fusiliers, Connaught Rangers, Royal Munster Fusiliers, Royal Dublin Fusiliers and the Leinster Regiment.

The 36th (Ulster) Division's men were largely unionist, Protestant and loyal to the Empire.

Many of them had been in the Ulster Volunteer Force to oppose Home Rule.

It was based on the three regiments based in Ulster: the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, Royal Irish Rifles and Royal Irish Fusiliers.

The 36th (Ulster) Division attacked on July 1, the first day of the Battle of the Somme.

It suffered 5,000 casualties, with more than 2,000 men killed. The 36th Division played little further part in the four-month-long battle.

The 16th (Irish) Division went over the top between September 4 and 9, when it captured the villages of Guillemont and Ginchy, at huge cost, with more than 1,000 killed.

Belfast Telegraph

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