Belfast Telegraph

William leads ceremony for Irish who fell in Flanders Fields

By Staff Reporter

The Duke of Cambridge and Taoiseach Enda Kenny have taken part in a UK-Irish ceremony in Belgium to mark the centenary of a First World War battle where unionist and nationalist soldiers fought together.

Prince William and Mr Kenny were joined by Princess Astrid of Belgium at the Island of Ireland Peace Park in Messines in Flanders to commemorate the first day of the week-long battle.

They laid wreaths at the foot of the Round Tower memorial, where unionist and nationalists fought and died together in the trenches.

It was an emotional day for the descendants of those who fought in the battle.

The families of two soldiers who are buried at nearby Wytschaete Cemetery met with William, Princess Astrid and the Taoiseach.

Political representatives from across Northern Ireland and the Republic also attended the commemoration.

DUP leader Arlene Foster, Sinn Fein’s Alex Maskey, SDLP MLA Dolores Kelly and Ulster Unionist Doug Beattie travelled together to the shared commemoration via train and coach.

The successful Allied offensive on June 7, 1917 was the first occasion the 36th Ulster and 16th Irish Divisions fought together on the front line.

The two Divisions predominantly comprised men who were on opposing sides of the great political upheaval back in Ireland.

The commemoration focused on the Island of Ireland Peace Park at Messines. The park was built in 1998 — the year of the Good Friday Agreement — to mark the sacrifice of all Irishmen who fought and died in the war.

Following the ceremony at the Peace Park, William, Mr Kenny and Princess Astrid travelled to Wytschaete Cemetery to pay their respects at the 16th Irish Division Memorial Cross.

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