Belfast Telegraph

Irish diplomat lays Cenotaph wreath

A diplomat from the Irish Republic has laid a laurel wreath at the London Cenotaph for the first time in almost 70 years.

Irish ambassador to Britain Dan Mulhall accepted the invitation to pay tribute to the fallen.

The wreath laying was the latest in a line of symbolic gestures by both the UK and Ireland aimed at putting their troubled history behind them.

During the Queen's historic visit to the Irish Republic in 2011 she attended commemorations for both the war dead and those Irish who died fighting against Britain for independence.

Some 200,000 Irish-born soldiers from north and south of the island served in the First World War, with around 50,000 losing their lives.

But those that returned from the war found a country riven by its own conflict with Britain. The Irish war of independence would follow and by 1921 the island was partitioned with the southern 26 counties becoming independent.

For decades the newly formed state struggled with its people's role fighting for Britain in the war. Returning soldiers were effectively ostracised and became scared to admit they had participated in the conflict.

The climate of reconciliation that has emerged since the end of the Northern Ireland Troubles has seen attitudes in the Republic change markedly, with a much greater emphasis on acknowledging those Irish soldiers who fought and died in the war.

Irish premier Taoiseach Enda Kenny accepted an invite, for the third year in a row, to attend this morning's Remembrance Sunday event in Enniskillen in Northern Ireland, the scene of the IRA's infamous 1987 poppy day bombing, while the minister for foreign affairs Charlie Flanagan was present at the event in Belfast.

Mr Mulhall's attendance in London was not the first occasion an Irish ambassador has been present for the annual commemoration in recent years, but it is the first time the state has been invited to lay a wreath in honour of Irish soldiers.

The last time a representative of state made such a gesture was in 1946, when Ireland was still a member of the Commonwealth.

Mr Kenny welcomed the Irish contribution to the ceremony in London.

"This is all part of the process of uniting the people both east and west and north and south," he said. "And that is very significant."

Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers also praised the gesture.

"I think it's a great step forward that the Irish ambassador has laid a wreath at the Cenotaph," she said after attending commemorations in Belfast.

"I think it's a great illustration of the renewed warmth in the relationship between the UK and Ireland and it is very important that we recognise there were thousands of men from the whole of the island of Ireland, north and south, who gave their lives in the uniform of the British Army in World War One and I think it's important their sacrifice is remembered and commemorated."

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