01/07/2016

Minister Humphreys In France For Battle Of The Somme Commemorations

The Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Heather Humphreys is in France to represent the government at a series of commemorative events to mark the centenary of the Battle of the Somme.

As part of her trip, the Minister will lay a wreath at the Ginchy Cross in Guillemont, which stands in remembrance of the 16th Irish Division of the British Army, which entered the Battle of the Somme in September 1916.

She will also attend the special Abbey Theatre production of Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme, which was supported by her Department, at the Maison de la Culture, Amiens.

The Minister will then join President Michael D Higgins at a ceremony at Thiepval, before traveling to another ceremony at the Ulster Tower, which stands in remembrance of the 36th Ulster Division. The Minister will also visit a number of graveyards as part of her trip.

Speaking in advance of the trip Minister Humphreys said: "The Battle of the Somme was a seismic event, which had a huge impact on the island of Ireland. Young Irish men, from North and South, took part in the epic battle, which lasted 141 days, and many of them did not make it back home.

"The Somme has particular resonance in my own province of Ulster, due to the very heavy losses suffered by the 36th Ulster Division on the first day of the battle. There were more than 5,500 casualties in the 36th on July 1st 1916, including 2,000 deaths. On Friday, I will travel to the Ulster Tower to lay a wreath on behalf of the Irish Government in memory of those men.

"Over the four years of World War One, it is estimated that 50,000 Irish men were killed while serving in the British, Commonwealth or United States armies. This had a profound effect on the island of Ireland, and almost certainly had an impact on every community across the country.

"For decades, the stories of these men went largely untold, and many of those who returned home from the Somme and other battles, felt forced to conceal their own experiences. The Decade of Commemorations has allowed us to explore some of these stories for the first time, giving those who fought and those who died their rightful place in Irish history.

"It will be an honour to lay wreaths at the Ginchy Cross and the Ulster Tower on behalf of the Government to remember the Irish men who made the ultimate sacrifice during World War One. During 2016, our centenary year, it has been incredibly important to me that we remember those who died fighting abroad, as well as those who died fighting during the Rising here at home. One hundred years on from both the Easter Rising and the Battle of the Somme, we are hearing a more complete narrative on the Irish experience in 1916, and the impact the events of that year had on our culture, our society and our psyche."

(MH)

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