Sinn Fein Speaker to honour Irish soldiers who lost lives at Gallipoli 100 years ago
Sinn Fein Speaker of the Assembly Mitchel McLaughlin is to attend a service in Lisburn tomorrow that will honour thousands of Irish soldiers who died in the bloody Gallipoli campaign of the Great War 100 years ago.
The south Antrim MLA will be among scores of guests from around the world who will pay tribute at Lisburn Cathedral to the estimated 3,400 Irishmen killed during the campaign against the Ottoman Empire which raged between April 1915 and January 1916 in the Gallipoli peninsula in Turkey.
Records show that more than 100,000 Allied and Turkish servicemen were killed at sea and on land.
A total of eight Irish regiments took part in the campaign and they will all be represented at tomorrow's service and the governments of Australia, New Zealand and Turkey are also sending officials.
Members of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (Anzacs) sustained particularly heavy losses which are remembered every April on Anzac Day, one of the most important national occasions Down Under.
Campaigners in Northern Ireland say the role of soldiers from the 10th (Irish) Division is sometimes forgotten.
In one 72-hour period alone - from August 7 to August 9, 1915, the Irish regiments lost 307 men.
One of them was 24-year-old New Lodge Road man Private Frederick Reis of the Royal Munster Fusiliers who died after his destroyer was hit by a Turkish shell off Suvla Bay.
Mr McLaughlin (below) said his attendance at the service as the Stormont Speaker underlined his commitment to give a lead in ensuring that the Assembly reflected all of the communities it represents.
"And that includes the memory of the thousands of young men of the unionist and nationalist traditions who died in the First World War."
He revealed that his interest in the Great War had been awakened in recent years, particularly by the fact that thousands of young Irishmen who were on different sides of the constitutional argument when they were at home also fought side by side on foreign battlefields.
Mr McLaughin said: "It is only from a recent visit to the Somme Heritage Centre in Newtownards that I learned about the significant number of Irishmen who fought at Gallipoli but who are perhaps not as well recognised as those who fought in other battles.
"I believe tomorrow's event is therefore timely to recognise their sacrifice."
The chairman of the Northern Ireland World War One Centenary Committee, Jeffrey Donaldson MLA, said: "It's important for us to remember the sacrifices that were made 100 years ago by soldiers from all parts of Ireland.
"I welcome the fact that, increasingly, people from the nationalist community are giving recognition to men whose memories were for a long time pushed to the background."
The eight Irish Regiments at Gallipoli were: 18th Royal Irish Regiment, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, Royal Irish (later Ulster) Rifles, Royal Irish Fusiliers, Connaught Rangers, Leinster Regiment, Royal Munster Fusiliers and Royal Dublin Fusiliers.