As his diocese commemorates 100 years since the end of World War I, Reverend Dr Paul Colton, Bishop of Cork, said the scale of the conflict was unprecedented and its effects continue to this day.
“There is hardly a community in Ireland and further afield that wasn’t affected in some way, given the numbers who died and were casualties and the ripple effect down through their families in the decades since,” Bishop Colton said. “100 years isn’t that long ago. What is is important is that it is not just veterans thinking of old comrades.
“This is about the catastrophe of war, the scale of those who died - not just on one side but on every side. It is about remembering the people of all nations who were affected.”
The centenary of Armistice Day is being marked with a range of projects and events in his diocese between now and Sunday. Tens of thousands of Irishmen died in the four years of battle, with many more injured. 4,200 people from Cork lost their lives and The centenary marks the final weekend of an exhibition that has been on display in St Fin Barre’s Cathedral for four years.
In 2014, Bishop Colton and the Dean of Cork, the Very Reverend Nigel Dunne, decided that names of the dead only tell part of the story, and that an image helps create a much stronger emotional connection to the fallen. They were overwhelmed by the response to their request for photographs of Cork soldiers who fought in the war, that had been hidden away in family albums or attics. They also invited photographs from people of other countries living in Cork, who lost family members.
The result is a visual display called ‘Putting Faces on the Names,’ which has been running ever since. Tens of thousands of visitors to the Cathedral have been to see it.
“We deliberately scanned the photos just as they were given to us, with no enhancement,” Bishop Colton said. “This is all that remains of what these people looked like. And it is not just Irish soldiers, there are Germans and others.”
The former British Ambassador to Ireland, Sir Dominick Chilcott, described it as ‘mesmerising’. This weekend will mark the last opportunity to visit before it is archived. It will be closed by the Bishop at the Service of Commemoration on Sunday afternoon at 3.30pm in St Fin Barre’s Cathedral.
Bishop Colton also said that while remembering the many who died, the centenary of the armistice is also an opportunity to reflect on the challenges to peace in the 21st century.
“We are still living with the outcomes of that war, and in our remembering we do well also to reflect on the challenges facing our world today which, in many places, is still crying out for justice and peace,” he said.
Bishop Colton has been keen to involve young people from the community in the commemoration events. Older children and teenagers are working on the Telegram project (see panel) and the Bishop is offering suggestions for projects to all schools in the diocese.
Following a suggestion from a member of his congregation, Bishop Colton chose olive trees as the ideal symbol of peace for the occasion, and is making a gift of an olive tree to every school, more than 20 in total.
“I was given the idea of the olive tree by Eunice Jeffers from Dunmanway, who is one of the people involved in our Diocesan Centenaries Commemoration and Reconciliation Project,” Bishop Colton said.
Along with the trees, each school will receive materials for a special school assembly of remembrance, with prayers for peace have been prepared by Jacqui Wilkinson.
The trees, were delivered to schools yesterday. In addition, students are being encouraged to look for war memorials in their churches and communities, and to find out about the people being commemorated.
Other suggestions for school projects include researching flags and badges around the world that incorporate the olive branch discovering the story behind the flag of the United Nations.
Students are asked to find out what the Quakers teach about war and peace, and to look into some of the winners of the Nobel Peace Prize. Prayers will be written for use at the assemblies, and a reading list for children about current areas of conflict in the world provided.
Bishop Colton is visiting some of the schools to attend these assemblies, with a number being held on Friday.
St Fin Barre’s Cathedral will be open as a place of pilgrimage and prayer beginning with Morning Prayer at 10 on Saturday and ending at 5pm. Prayers of remembrance and for peace will be said on the hour each hour and the Bishop himself will be present throughout the day.
On Sunday, at St Fin Barre’s Cathedral, a bell will ring once on each of the four minutes (one for each year of the First World War) before 11am and silence will be kept.
At 11am the traditional two minutes silence will be kept following which, at 11.02am the bells of the Cathedral will ring out.
The Sunday morning Eucharist will be a Requiem and instead of a sermon the names of those who are commemorated in the Cathedral memorials will be read out.
Bishop Colton has been invited by the Royal British Legion to give an oration at the War Memorial at the Grand Parade at the annual Act of Remembrance there at lunchtime.
The Service of Commemoration to mark the end of the First World War will take place on Sunday at 3.30pm.