Belfast Telegraph

Remembrance Day: Our dead did not fight for an Ulster still at war with itself

By Alf McCreary

A Remembrance Day service in a church on Belfast's 'Peaceline' tomorrow will be a poignant reminder of the comradeship and deaths of so many people from Ireland who served in the First World War, and other conflicts.

It will also be a reminder of the unfinished business on this island which we all share, for better or for worse.

In Townsend Street Presbyterian Church the Rev Jack Lamb and his congregation, like many people across the British Isles and beyond, will remember the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War, and the tragedy of all wars.

The Last Post will be played by the church's buglers to commemorate the former staff of the Belfast Met (previously the Belfast Institute), and there will be a congregational sing-a-long of wartime melodies, including Tipperary and Pack Up Your Troubles.

The service will commemorate the sacrifice of the men of the 36th Ulster Division, and the 10th and 16th Irish Divisions who served together in France, and a special wreath will be laid by the great-niece of First World War hero Sergeant William Shearer DCM who died in the conflict.

He was killed in 1915, and when his minister from Townsend Church went to tell his family, he discovered that they were already in mourning.

By an ironic twist of fate, Sergeant Shearer's wife had actually already received a letter from her husband in which had foretold of his death.

I fail to understand how anyone today, from either side of our community, could fail to be moved by such suffering, though sadly there are many hearts of stone which are still encased in their flinty bigotry.

This summer I saw the sea of large poppies planted around the Tower of London, and it was a moving display to any one who has any understanding of human suffering.

Sadly, however, there are still people in Ireland, north and south, who refuse to wear a poppy for political reasons, and there are some extreme Irish nationalists who even refuse to recognise Remembrance Day.

Such bigotry and ignorance is to be pitied, as well as condemned, and it reminds us about how far we need to go to achieve lasting peace here at home.

That lack of understanding led to some 40 years of mayhem, wounding and death, and today we also mark the anniversary of the IRA explosion at Enniskillen Cenotaph when student nurse Marie Wilson and 10 others died, and many others were badly injured.

My heart goes out to the families of the victims, including Mrs Joan Wilson who, with her late husband Gordon, showed such inspiring Christian strength at a time of such great loss.

Fortunately, the situation in Ireland is improving, and the better understanding between our two nations was symbolised by the Queen's historic visit to Dublin.

Tomorrow there will be another step forward when an Irish Government representative will lay a wreath at the main London Cenotaph, and next Friday the RTE Concert Orchestra will perform Britten's War Requiem in a cross-border and cross-community concert in St Anne's Cathedral.

These are welcome signs of greater understanding but it is sad and insulting that so many of our politicians behave like clowns and still go out of their way to insult one another. This is a sad province where offence is given and taken almost with every other breath.

Tragically, the many thousands of Irish men and women who perished in the First World War did not die for an Ulster or an Ireland which is still neither truly healed nor at peace.

'There are many hearts of stone encased in bigotry'

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