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Remembrance Sunday: Orange Order in historic Dublin wreath ceremony

By Lyra McKee

On Saturday, around 15 or so people gathered in the rain on Dublin's Mount Street Bridge to lay a wreath of poppies in what is believed to have been the Orange Order's first public event in Dublin since 1936.

The commemoration had been deliberately kept low-key, with no publicity or press statements issued beforehand.

"Hopefully, there'll be no vandalism," said Chris Thackaberry, one of the organisers.

Given that it was the day before Remembrance Sunday, a passer-by wouldn't have found anything particularly remarkable about the scene.

Thousands of Irishmen and women served in the two World Wars. The Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, formally paid tribute to them when he attended a commemoration in Northern Ireland three years ago. Speaking after the event, the then Tanaiste, Eamon Gilmore, said: "There isn't a village or town anywhere on the island of Ireland that was not touched by the great wars of the 20th century."

Yet Saturday's event was significant. It's thought that the last time the Order held a public event in the Irish capital was 1936 - commemorating British soldiers who died during the 1916 rebellion.

Organised by members of the Dublin and Wicklow Loyal Orange Lodge and The Reform Group - which lobbies for the Republic of Ireland to rejoin the Commonwealth - the poppy wreath was laid in remembrance of members of the Sherwood Foresters.

This British Army regiment sustained significant casualties during a gun battle with rebel volunteers under Eamon de Valera's command near Mount Street Bridge in April 1916.

"In many respects, these lads probably didn't know the political situation in Ireland," said Mr Thackaberry, a senior member of the Dublin and Wicklow LOL who splits his time between Northern Ireland and Dublin.

"They just landed in Kingstown and some of them thought they were in France. There were 214 casualties in total," he said.

With the centenary of the Easter Rising next year, the event shows how, nearly 100 years on, Irish society - north and south - is still divided in its interpretation of the events of 1916.

Mr Thackaberry said: "There was a fantastic letter in the paper going back a year ago from an ordinary Irish citizen from Dublin who described himself as a Catholic and nationalist. He said: 'If I had been a loyalist in 1916, John Redmond would have said to me: 'Give me your vote, I want to represent you in a constitutional government, I want to represent your best interests.'

"I'm paraphrasing here but he then wrote, 'What would Pearse have said to me? Pearse would have said, 'I'm the President of a new State which you are now part of and if you don't like it, I'm going to re-educate you at the end of a gun.' Technically, that's what the rebellion was."

Mr Thackaberry, a Dublin-born Protestant, is obviously at odds with the vast majority of his countrymen when it comes to his views on the 1916 rebellion. One would assume that it makes life in the Republic more difficult.

Not so. Despite his fears about the poppy wreath being vandalised, he sees the Republic as a country of great religious and civil liberty. "You have the Parades Commission in Northern Ireland. If there was a (32 county) Republic in the morning, the Parades Commission would be deemed unconstitutional when benchmarked against our Irish Constitution.

"We have a right to free assembly and An Garda Siochana have to facilitate that. If we wanted to have a parade next year from our Orange Hall on Northumberland Road to Mount Street Bridge, we can actually do so freely with no interference at all."

The last public event held by the Orange Order in Dublin was in 1936 when members were attacked as they marched to Amiens Street railway station to board the train for Belfast where they were going to participate in the Twelfth celebrations.

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