02 April 2006

Irish should also remember British dead, says MP

Sunday Times

**I disagree intensely with this article but am including it for reading

Liam Clarke
2 April 2006

BRITISH soldiers killed in the Easter Rising should be included in Ireland’s 90th anniversary commemorations, according to a Conservative party MP.

Patrick Mercer, the Tories’ frontbench spokesman on homeland security, is encouraging relatives of the 134 British soldiers killed in the rising to travel to Dublin to visit their graves and to see sites linked to the rising. He says such trips would be similar to those made by American veterans to Vietnam.

Mercer is a former commanding officer of the Worcestershire and Sherwood Foresters Regiment, which suffered most casualties in the rising. The regiment also supplied the firing squads that executed Padraig Pearse, James Connolly and other insurgent leaders afterwards.

The MP pointed this out to authorities at Kilmainham prison, when he visited Dublin in 1999, and the fact is now included in the narrative there.

Last Friday, Mercer tabled an early-day motion in the House of Commons welcoming the attendance of Stewart Eldon, the British ambassador to Ireland, at the official 1916 commemoration in Dublin. The motion praises the move as a sign of reconciliation, but also calls for British graves to be honoured.

During Easter week the revolutionary forces, made up of the Irish Volunteers and Irish Citizen Army, suffered 64 fatalities compared to 134 from the crown forces, 35 of them from Irish regiments. Civilians suffered the highest casualties of all, with at least 220 killed and more than 600 wounded. About 17 police officers also died, some during an ambush in Ashbourne, Co Meath.

The current plans are for a minute’s silence for all who died in Easter week, with no specific mention of British casualties. Relatives of the 1916 leaders and volunteers who were killed in action will be asked to join dignitaries on a reviewing stand in O’Connell Street for a military parade on Easter Sunday. Later there will be a wreath-laying ceremony at Kilmainham.

The Irish government also plans to hold a commemoration in July of Irish men who died in British regiments at the Battle of the Somme. The ceremony, at Islandbridge War memorial, is seen as a way of balancing the huge event marking the 90th anniversary of the rising.

Mercer wants wreathes to be laid in Grangegorman military cemetery, where a number of the British casualties are buried. “The ceremony should not neglect the graves of the soldiers, policemen and crown servants who died in April and May 1916. If there is no official gesture, then the British ambassador should himself visit some of these graves,” the MP said.

“I would like the opportunity to take some of my constituents, who are descended from the men of the Sherwood Foresters, and to sound the Last Post and pay our respects at Grangegorman, where a number are buried. The Vietnamese welcome American veterans and their families back to the scenes of past battles from a much more recent war, so what is the problem?”

On April 29, Mercer is organising a ceremony in Balderton cemetery in his own constituency of Newark at the graves of three Sherwood Foresters who were killed by Irish Volunteers.

They and regimental comrades had been destined for the battlefields of France, but were diverted to Ireland.

Mercer said: “Whatever your feelings about the events of 1916, if we are reconciling Britain and Ireland then we have got to recognise the dead from all sides,” the MP said.

“In the same way that the Irish government is going to be celebrating the anniversary of the Somme, and bearing in mind the casualties from both southern and northern Ireland divisions, we should also be remembering the crown forces who died in Ireland itself.”

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