Belfast Telegraph

Union Flag and Irish Tricolour fly side by side as Sinn Fein's McLaughlin lays wreath for the fallen at Battle of Messines

By Eamonn MacDermott

The Union flag and Irish tricolour flew side by side as Sinn Fein took part for the first time in a wreath-laying ceremony to commemorate those who died at the Battle of Messines.

In a ground-breaking Londonderry ceremony, Assembly Speaker Mitchel McLaughlin and Derry Mayor Elisha McCallion, both of Sinn Fein, paid tribute to the Ulster and Irish Volunteers who died in the First World War offensive.

Laden with symbolism, a colour party carrying the Union flag, the tricolour and other Commonwealth flags were accompanied by a band to the War Memorial in the Diamond.

After the Last Post was sounded, Mr McLaughlin and Ms McCallion lined up with former service personnel in front of the monument where they laid laurel wreaths, as others laid traditional poppy wreaths.

Afterwards, the standards were raised and a piper played a short lament before the colour party made its way back to London Street.

This is the 14th year of the commemoration, and the first time Sinn Fein has participated.

"It would be a tragedy if 100 years on we could not commemorate such events in a spirit of understanding," said Mr McLaughlin.

"People from both traditions went off to fight side by side, leaving aside the political differences they may have had at home.

"And it is significant many returned and once again took up the political standpoint they held before they went off to war."

Ms McCallion said she was fulfilling a commitment she made at the start of her term of office.

She said: "I said I would represent the entire city and district and an event like this shows that all traditions in the city can be treated with respect and dignity. I am grateful to the International School of Peace Studies who have allowed people like me to remember those that died at Messines."

Glenn Barr, a former loyalist leader who is now the chief executive of the International School of Peace Studies, said: "We now recognise both the unionist and nationalist traditions who fell and are lying in graves side by side.

"German bullets did not discriminate in who they killed."

The Battle of Messines in Belgium in June 1917 saw both the 16th Irish and 36th Ulster divisions involved in heavy fighting that lasted more than a week.

Strategically the battle was seen as a success for the British and their allies. In later years former German commanders described it as crucial in the overall course of the war.

Belfast Telegraph


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