William and Irish PM attend Battle of Messines centenary commemoration
They were joined by Princess Astrid of Belgium and Lord Dunlop.
A major joint UK-Irish ceremony has begun in Belgium to mark the centenary of a First World War battle where unionist and nationalist soldiers from Ireland fought side by side in the trenches.
The Duke of Cambridge and Irish premier Enda Kenny have arrived at the Island of Ireland Peace Park in Messines in Flanders, to commemorate the first day of the week-long battle.
William and the Taoiseach have been joined by Princess Astrid of Belgium and Lord Dunlop, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Northern Ireland Office to honour the soldiers who fought in the battle.
Today The Duke of Cambridge is visiting Belgium to attend commemorations marking the centenary of the Battle of Messines Ridge. pic.twitter.com/vr29zsjti9— Kensington Palace (@KensingtonRoyal) June 7, 2017
They laid wreaths at the foot of the Round Tower memorial, before meeting invited guests including descendants of those who fought at the Battle.
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 around whether the country should be granted self-governance from Westminster.
Former Stormont first minister Arlene Foster is also attending the shared event.
The commemoration focuses on the Island of Ireland Peace Park at Messines. The park was built in 1998 – the year of the historic Good Friday peace agreement – to mark the sacrifice of all those Irishmen who fought and died in the war.
As part of the commemoration, William and Mr Kenny will also visit nearby Wytschaete Cemetery, where many of those who died now rest.
The village of Wytschaete was captured by the 36th and 16th during the Battle of Messines.
A new memorial erected at the entrance of the cemetery last week depicts a scene that many believe encapsulates the legacy of the day Irish Protestant and Catholic soldiers fought together – the attempted battlefield rescue of fatally wounded 56-year-old nationalist Home Rule MP Willie Redmond by a young unionist private, John Meeke.
Major Redmond’s brother John was the leader of the constitutional nationalist Home Rule movement.
The Duke and Mr Kenny will pay their respects at the 16th Irish Division Memorial Cross in a private ceremony before meeting family members of servicemen buried in the cemetery.
The capture of Messines Ridge was a key objective of the Allied Forces ahead of their mid-summer 1917 offensive on German lines between the nearby town of Ypres and the small village of Passchendaele – a battle that has since become synonymous with the horrors of trench warfare.
The Allies sustained around 10,000 casualties during the Battle of Messines, the Germans around 25,000. Between them the 36th and 16th lost around 2,500 killed, injured or missing.
The two divisions fought together only twice in the First World War. The second came in a heavy defeat, two months after Messines, during an ill-fated offensive at nearby Langemark in the first weeks of the Battle of Passchendaele.
The commemoration in Belgium is Mr Kenny’s last overseas engagement as Taoiseach before he steps down from the role later this month.