As the centenary of the end of World War I was commemorated at a number of events today, Cork City Lord Mayor Mick Finn said ‘Cork’s involvement in World War I is part of our DNA and is a story that needs to be told and told again’.
More than 4,000 people from Cork died in the four years of the conflict and Mr Finn paid tribute to them at the Remembrance event in the city centre today.
“We need to remember those ordinary men and women who left the green hills of Cork for the green fields of France, many never to return, others suffering the experience for the rest of their lives,” he said.
Mr Finn quoted a former Lord Mayor, Terence McSwiney, who said: “We have surrounded with fictitious glory the carnage of the battlefields. We have shouted of wading through our enemies’ blood as if bloody fields were beautiful. War is hell.” Mr Finn emphasised that remembering those who died was not to glorify or celebrate war but to
acknowledge their sacrific.
“We should be thankful for the people they were…those ordinary Cork men and women who too had their hopes and dreams and lives coloured by the ins and outs of their existence by the Lee,” he said.
“Their story represents a chapter in our city’s history, indeed our country’s complex make-up that has often been difficult to talk about and rationalise amid a national reluctance to recognise the role of the Irish in WW 1 as the country fought for self-determination.
“Yet this should not mean it be avoided altogether, as was once the case.” At the invitation of the Royal British Legion, Bishop of Cork Paul Colton gave an oration at the War Memorial at the Grand Parade, where he said: “Today, we live with the outcomes in a world that was transformed forever by that war.” He believes we in the 21st century cannot and should not judge the actions of people a century ago.
“We are here today simply to remember them; to remember the awfulness of it all, the deaths, the wounds, the scars, mental, emotional and physical, the gaps that stayed for ever - in individual lives, in families, in communities, in societies, and in nations,” he said. “Whatever our current outlook we can all agree that people died; that there was unimaginable and ghastly suffering; and that the world has never been the same since. Our world still shudders.
“Today is not a day for analysis and debate.” Dr Colton said commemorating the tragedy of World War I should act as a reminder to us all “challenge anything, anyone and everything” that risks the possibility of something like it happening again.
“Their faces do stare at us across history, and their stories resonate, and we realise that there are questions for us in our time - for us of all outlooks … must build bridges, join hands, work with our difference, and try to meet minds to address these questions; what have we become? what are we becoming? Or more menacing still - what do we risk becoming?” Saint Fin Barre’s Cathedral was open as a place of pilgrimage on Saturday, with prayers of remembrance and for peace throughout the day.
“As I sat throughout today keeping vigil in St Fin Barre’s Cathedral looking at the faces of those whose photographs we managed to collect, I saw people kneeling to pray, others leaving in tears, and others transfixed or stunned by it all,” Dr Colton said.
He paid tribute to five men from Cork who died on Armistice Day ‘having almost made it to the end’ - gunner D. Keating, leading seaman James Donovan, sergeant W. Looney, serjeant William Morrissey and private John O’Leary.
“When the bells rang out to signal the end of the war - there was no joy in those homes on this day,” Dr Colton said.
This weekend was the final opportunity to see ‘Putting Faces on the Names’, the Diocese’ visual display of people with a Cork connection who lost their lives in WWI. This has been running in St Fin Barre's since 2014 and will now be archived.
There were also commemorations in Cobh, beginning with a special midday mass in St. Colman's Cathedral followed by the unveiling of a brass plaque in St. Benedict's Priory Gardens honouring those who lost their lives as a result of the conflict.