Sacrifice: thousands of Irish fought in world wars

THE Department of Defence has banned any memorials to Irish soldiers who served in the two world wars from being erected on Defence Forces properties.

The decision came after a commemoration society offered to fit a stained-glass window in memory of the Royal Munster Fusiliers at a barracks in Cork.

However, the offer was refused on the basis that the "separate identity" of the Defence Forces would be compromised by commemorating soldiers that fought under a foreign flag. The Department of Defence is expecting dozens of similar requests as the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the first world war arrives in 2014.

A letter obtained by the Sunday Tribune said that while there must be "respect for both traditions", there could be no more memorials on Defence Forces property.

The Department of Defence letter says: "In considering any monument or event commemorating the Great War, the department wishes to ensure that due regard be had to the separate traditions of the Defence Forces and membership by Irish people of the British armed forces.

"The dedication of memorials in Defence Forces barracks and churches to personnel and units of the British services could give rise to confusion in relation to the separate traditions.

"As a general principle therefore, it is not intended that any further memorials be erected on Defence Forces properties relating to military service other than with Óglaigh na héireann."

The Department of Defence said that it would continue to commemorate the tens of thousands of Irish who fought or died on foreign battlefields on the National Day of Commemoration in July. Its letter said: "The Defence Forces also give significant support to the recently established annual event organised by the Royal British Legion at the National War Memorial Gardens, Islandbridge, with its emphasis on the Battle of the Somme and the Great War."

The Royal Munster Fusiliers Association had wanted to fit a stained-glass window at St Michael's Garrison Church in Cork to mark the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the first world war.

Honorary secretary Tadhg Moloney said: "A significant number of the casualties suffered by the regiment during the war were born in Cork [and] a number of soldiers from the regiment are buried in the military cemetery adjacent to the barracks."

Moloney said the organisation was deeply disappointed by the decision. He said: "It does not seem to gel with what Taoiseach Brian Cowen has recently said with regard to honouring the dead on all sides.

"This is not a subject that is ever broached in our schools and it is only when you delve further, you realise how much a part of our heritage this is.

"A lot of these men went out to fight these wars in the hope of helping Ireland and I think now they are being hard done by. We appear to be heading in the wrong direction in remembering their sacrifice with this decision."