Dedication of the France-Ireland Memorial, Glasnevin, 13 November 2016

Dedication of the France-Ireland Memorial, Glasnevin, 13 November 2016

The Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Heather Humphries T.D., with Minister Jean-Marc Todeschini, French Minister for State for Veterans and Remembrance, in association with the Chairman and Board of Gasnevin Trust, hosted a dedication ceremony of the France – Ireland Memorial, in Glasnevin Cemetery, on Sunday, 13 November, 2016.

The Memorial was gifted to the Irish people by France.  In his introduction to the dedication programme, Mr. François Hollande, President of the French Republic said, inter alia: “The monument we are inaugurating symbolizes the shared memory between our two countries and bears witness to the tribute France pays to the Irish people who sacrificed themselves for her. It also reflects the French Defence Ministry’s desire, in the name of national heritage, to set in stone France’s message of gratitude and friendship to its allies and friends of yesterday and today.

In acknowledging the generous French gift, An Taoiseach Enda Kenny T.D. stated, inter alia: “This France-Ireland Memorial, engraved with the inspiring words of Marshal Foch, evokes the long history of solidarity and fraternity that exists between the Irish and the French people.  It evokes the values and aspirations that our two peoples have shared at crucial junctures in our histories, and that we continue to share today.

The Memorial, created by Patrice Alexandre and the students of the Ecole Nationale Superieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris, consists of 3 meter-high upright Irish-blue limestones resembling ancient Irish and French dolmens, in a megalithic configuration, surmounted by a Celtic cross bringing the total height of the monument to more than 7 metres.  The following extract from a tribute published by the Irish Times in 1928 by the Supreme Commander of the Allied Armies, Marshal Foch, is engraved in Irish, English and French on the stone:

Some of the flower of Irish chivalry rests in the cemeteries that have been reserved in France, and the French people will always have these reminders of the debt that France owes to Irish valour. We shall always see that the graves of these heroes from across the sea are lovingly tended, and we shall try to ensure that the generations that come after us shall never forget the heroic dead of Ireland.”

The Celtic cross is a replica of the original wooden cross, now located in the National War Memorial Gardens at Islandbridge in Dublin, built by the men of the 16th Irish Division for the churchyard at Ginchy, following the action during the Battle of the Somme in Ginchy and Guillemont in September 1916.  The Celtic cross follows the axis of the sun from east to west.  On the day of the solstice, the cross will be illuminated all day long.

A path made of stones, intentionally left rough to remind the brutality of combat, leads to the Memorial.  On the sides of the pathway, three bronze helmets are mounted on stone blocks.  The helmets are replicas of those worn by Irish, French and English soldiers during the Battle of the Somme.  Each helmet is engraved with tributes from the French Department for Defence, the Ecole Nationale Superieure des Beaux-Arts and the name of the artists.

The Memorial also portrays French gratitude to the Irish men who fought in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 -1871 and for the freedom of France in the Second World World War

The dedication ceremony consisted of addresses by the two Ministers and Mr John Green Chairman of the Glasnevin Trust, along with students’ reflections and appropriate music played by the Band of the 2 Brigade.  The ceremony concluded with a formal wreath-laying ceremony and the National Anthems of Ireland and France.

The Master of Ceremonies was Commandant Sean McEoin OIC Military Archives.  Personnel from the 12 Infantry Battalion under the command of Captain Brian Lynch provided the Guard of Honour.  The Honour Guard at the Memorial was drawn from the 7 Infantry Battalion under the command of Lieutenant Sarah Conlon.  The French Colour Party was provided by the 92 Infantry Regiment under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Rosier.  The 92 Infantry Regiment is the last French regiment that descends directly from former Irish regiments incorporated in the French army in 1697.  The French Representative Body was drawn from the crew of L’Aigle (M647).  The Band of the 2 Brigade was under the baton of Captain Thomas Kelly and the Piper’s Lament was played by Sergeant Joe Meade.

Following the dedication ceremony, Albert Sutton and James Moore were formally bestowed with the Légion d’Honneur for service in France during the Second World War.  Barbara Allshire received the Légion d’Honneur on behalf of her recently deceased brother Jack.

Attendance at the ceremony included: H.E. Geraldine Byrne Nason Irish Ambassador to France, H.E. Jean-Pierre Thébault French Ambassador to Ireland, the Mayors of  Ginchy and Guillemont, Vice-Admiral Mark Mellott DSM Chief of Staff, Lieutenant-General Pat Nash DSM, Major-General David O’Morchoe (Retd) President Royal British Legion and representatives of An Garda Síochána and numerous Veterans’ Associations.  Patrice Alexandre Professor of Sculpture at the Beaux-Arts was accompanied by five students from his workshop: Anais Ang, Cécilia Breuil, Hadrien Gunther, Alexander Raczka and Théophile Stern.  Brigadier-General Paul Pakenham (Retd) represented The Military Heritage of Ireland Trust.

During the course of her address, Minister Humphreys said, inter alia:

“This is a very significant gesture by the Government of France, to gift Ireland with this replica cross which will stand in Glasnevin Cemetery in recognition of the close bound which exists between our two countries.  Tens of thousands of Irishmen went to fight on the battlefields of northern France during the First World War, and many of them made the ultimate sacrifice.

“This cross will stand as a symbol of Irish wartime service in France. In September 1916, more than 1,200 from the 16th Irish Division lost their lives and thousands more were injured during heavy fighting at Ginchy and Guillemont. The 16th included men from right across the island of Ireland, meaning that communities in every province were impacted by those events during the Battle of the Somme 100 years ago.

“I travelled to Guillemont in September of this year for a special commemorative event to mark the outbreak of fighting there, and I would like to thank Minister Todeschini for returning to Dublin today for the dedication of this special replica cross. This gesture underlines the legacy of co-operation between Ireland and France and will be deeply appreciated by Irish people, particularly as we commemorate the ending of the Somme campaign.”

Minister Todeschini said, inter alia:

This Memorial is a unique work of art, a creation by young artists and sculptors from the Beaux-Arts de Paris, to express not only a message of deep thanks and recognition but also to illustrate the role of youth to shape a better future.

“Forming an integral part of the Memorial, three bronze helmets dedicate the Memorial : « Ce lieu de mémoire est dédié aux Irlandais et aux Irlandaises qui ont combattu pour la Liberté et la Défense de la France lors des guerres de 1870-1871, 1914-1918 et 1939-1945 .

“The Memorial is meant to be a lasting tribute from France and the French people to all Irish from all the island of Ireland and beyond who constantly have expressed their solidarity and their commitment – even unto the supreme sacrifice – to the values and the freedom of France: Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité.

Chairman of Glasnevin Trust Mr. John Green said:

“The France Ireland memorial, a gift from France to the people of all Ireland, is a unique piece of sculpture which literally erupts out of the ground.  It is very definitely a 21st Century memorialization. Its position in Glasnevin Cemetery is significant as thousands of those who served on French soil in the defense of France have found their final resting place here, as have so many from the different strands and traditions in Irish history since 1798.  Its unveiling is a hugely symbolic moment in recognising Ireland’s contribution to France and the enduring fraternity of our two nations.  It will stand as a reminder to future generations of the mutual experience of France and Ireland, but also of the frightful cost of war.” 

Photographs courtesy of Patrick Hugh Lynch

Link to Military Heritage of Ireland Trust’s Image Gallery >>