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Political leaders and veterans to gather in Dublin to mark Battle of the Somme

Published 08/07/2016

War graves are lit at the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing
War graves are lit at the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing

Political leaders and military veterans are due to gather in Dublin on Saturday to commemorate the Battle of the Somme.

The event at the Irish National War Memorial Gardens, Islandbridge, has been organised by the Irish Government and Royal British Legion to remember the 3,500 soldiers from north and south of the Irish border who were killed during one of the bloodiest battles of the First World War.

Irish President Michael D Higgins, Taoiseach Enda Kenny, Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers and Stormont Speaker Robin Newton will be among the invited dignitaries at the wreath-laying ceremony.

Members of the Council of State, diplomatic corps, judiciary, elected representatives and ambassadors from countries which fought at the Somme will also be in attendance.

Last week thousands of people including members of the Royal Family, heads of state, church leaders and the relatives of fallen soldiers flocked to northern France for a service of remembrance marking 100 years since the start of the five-month battle which claimed a million lives.

Almost 20,000 died within hours of leaving their trenches on July 1 1916.

Army generals had hoped the battle would be short and produce a pivotal victory for Britain and France over Germany but the gains were negligible and the fighting waged on until November.

Some of the heaviest losses were suffered by the 36th Ulster Division, whose attack near the village of Thiepval was successful but the territory gained could not be held.

The 16th Irish Division, which went into battle on September 3 at Guillemont, was also badly hit, losing almost half of the 2,400 men involved in the attack.

The outdoor ceremony is expected to start at about midday.

Mr Newton said it was important to take part.

He said: "With my responsibilities for representing the entire Assembly, it is important that I should be involved in emphasising that the Somme did not just affect one part of our community. I am therefore pleased to be able to represent the Assembly at the commemoration in Dublin.

"The annual event at Islandbridge is traditionally organised by the Royal British Legion of Ireland, but by hosting it during this centenary year, the Taoiseach has demonstrated the importance of remembering the fallen of the Somme by coming together and putting politics aside. That is entirely appropriate to recognise that young men on opposing sides of the political divide here went out to fight and die side by side in common cause at the Somme."

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