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Belfast Battle of the Somme commemoration to be held on Friday


The 36th (Ulster) Division at the Somme

The 36th (Ulster) Division at the Somme

The 36th (Ulster) Division at the Somme

A special meeting of Belfast City Council will be held on Friday to commemorate the anniversary of the Battle of the Somme.

An estimated 3,500 soldiers from across the island of Ireland died fighting at the Somme in 1916 as member of the 36th Ulster Division and the 16th Irish Division.

Friday morning’s council meeting will be followed by a wreath-laying ceremony in the Garden of Remembrance at City Hall to mark the anniversary, as per tradition.

The 36th Ulster Division was made up mostly of Ulster Protestants and the regiment sustained massive losses at Thiepval on the first day of the battle. Comprised of mainly nationalists, the 16th Irish Division also suffered significant casualties when they joined the fighting at Guillemont in September, 1916.

Widely commemorated by unionists over the last century, it is only in recent years that the sacrifice of Irishmen who fought for the British at the Somme has been increasingly recognised by nationalists. Indeed, the annual commemoration at City Hall is now attended by Irish Government representatives and politicians from both unionist and nationalist parties here.

DUP councillor Dale Pankhurst highlighted the important of remembering such a historic event today.

“The Battle of the Somme shook the communities of Belfast and across the United Kingdom," he told the Belfast Telegraph.

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"Particularly here in Belfast, we remember the immense sacrifices of the 36th Ulster Division and the 16th Irish Division who fought and died together for our freedom in Flanders Fields. In working-class areas in particular such as the Shankill Road, there wasn’t a street that wasn’t affected by the Battle of the Somme. Many families lost loved ones.

"Remembering their heroism and courage is vitally important. It ensures their sacrifice is honoured and never forgotten both within current and indeed future generations.”

Back in 2016 on the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme, a programme of events in NI took place called Somme 100, which ran for 100 days - the same length as the campaign in 1916.

The programme included lectures, debates and tours highlighting the horrors of war.

Over the course of the First World War, from 1914 to 1918, more than 30,000 Ulstermen from the 16th Irish, 10th Irish and 36th Ulster Divisions perished.

Somme 100 focused on the more overlooked stories of the battle.

Speaking at the time, Philip Orr from the History Hub Ulster advisory group said the Somme wasn't just about the men "going over the top", but the women's and children's lives were also affected.

"When the men returned home, initially it was to a heroes' welcome, particularly in the unionist communities but less so in nationalist areas. The economic environment was troubled, the Easter Rising had occurred, work was hard to find and the search for jobs is what they shared," he said.

"For many who volunteered for war were 'virgin soldiers' - it may have been the first time they owned a pair of boots. Some joined because they sought adventure or wanted to serve.

"Nowadays we watch movies, play computer games, we see it on the news - we simulate war - but for those soldiers it was for real. They went off thinking the war would soon be over, and joined for comradeship, self-expression, and four years later many were still at the front."

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