President Higgins to attend British War Commemoration

President Michael D Higgins is to attend an official British commemoration for the start of the first world war in Mons in Belgium. He will be among the 500 guests of the event which will take place on August 4 at the St Symphorien military cemetery outside the city.

The event will bring together Prince William and his wife Kate, as well as representatives from all countries involved in the fighting along the Western Front, including Ireland.

Earlier on August 4, President Higgins will attend a Belgian commemoration in Liège marking the centenary of the German invasion of Belgium.

St Symphorien Cemetery contains the graves of the first and last British and Commonwealth soldiers to die in the war. Dozens of soldiers of Irish origin killed in the Battle of Mons on August 23, 1914, are buried in the cemetery, the only cemetery on the western front where Allied and German soldiers are buried together.

The grave of the first Victoria Cross recipient, Lieut Maurice Dease of Coole, County Westmeath, is located there.

The Office of Public Works will soon receive memorial stones paid for by the British government to commemorate the 24 Victoria Cross recipients who were born in what is now the Republic. The UK intends to erect monument stones in all the hometowns of the 628 men who won the Victoria Cross during the war, including the Republic.


Dease’s death

A spokesperson for the Arts, Heritage and Gaeltacht Department said it was planned to mark the death of Lieutenant Dease on August 23 with an official presentation or public display of the stones at a heritage site or center.

Installation of stones at their final destinations will be discussed later.

The main Irish commemoration will be the unveiling of the Cross of Sacrifice at Glasnevin Cemetery on July 31, a joint project involving the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and the government.

On August 27, a large contingent of relatives from the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Munster Fusiliers will participate in a commemoration ceremony in an orchard in Etreux, in northern France. The orchard has a Celtic cross in memory of around 100 Irish-born soldiers who died in action against the advancing German army.

The FAI accepted an invitation from UEFA to participate in an event marking the centenary of a Christmas truce when British and German soldiers played football in a field between the trenches in Flanders, Belgium, in December 1914.

UEFA President Michel Platini invited the leaders of the various football associations concerned to commemorate the event on 17 December.


Members of the public are encouraged to bring a single stem flower of their choice to place on the altar during the service, which will also be in memory of Irish soldiers who were killed or missing during the war.

The service stems from a larger project to assemble a database of Irish WWI veterans who served in all combat armies.

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