Iveagh House – Dublin
On 16 December, the former President of Ireland, Professor Mary McAleese, addressed an audience in Iveagh House on the subject of the Christmas Truce of 1914. Professor McAleese was welcomed by the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Mr Charlie Flanagan TD.
Among the guests, was the British Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, the Rt Hon Philip Hammond MP. Brigadier-General Paul Pakenham (Retd)nrepresented the Military Heritage of Ireland Trust (CLG). Directors of the Trust, Mr Frank Murray and Major-General David O’Morchoe (Retd) were also in attendance.
Professor McAleese’s address, the fifth in a series of commemorative lectures at the headquarters of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, reflected on the centenary of the Christmas Truce, when troops along Western Front, including soldiers from Ireland, laid down their arms in a temporary ceasefire.
The lecture is one of a number of events being organised by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to commemorate the First World War.
Referring to the activities of the truce, Professor McAleese stated inter alia: “It is a telling fact that many of these spontaneous acts of truce were accompanied or even precipitated by music and song. Just as patriotic music was used to divide and develop blindness to the humanity of the other, here was music transcending all that divided them, and introducing them to the common humanity of the other.
Those songs opened up a heartbreaking reality that whatever the high-level politics of that war, on both sides these extradordinary ordinary young men had lived similar lives, in similar homes, been raised with similar values, had sung the same songs, had hoped for long and happy lives, for Christmases shared with their children and grandchildren, singing Christmas carols in places infinitely more humanly decent than the terrible trenches”.
Professor McAleese’s lecture was followed by a panel discussion, moderated by Dr John Bowman, with Professor John Horne of Trinity College Dublin and Mr Don Mullan, founder of the Christmas Truce and Flanders Peace Field Project. Foreign Secretary Hammond also made a contribution to the evening’s discussion.
Defence Forces Carol Service
Led by Monsignor Eoin Thynne, Head Chaplain, the outbreak of World War 1 and the Christmas Truce was also a theme of the Annual Defence Forces Carol Service held in Arbour Hill on 10 December 2014.
The rendition of Silent Night by Lieutenant Cian Clancy, 1 Artillery Regiment, can be viewed at http://militarychaplaincy.ie/silent-night-1915/
Coming just five months into World War 1, during the Christmas period of 1914, a series of small scale yet unofficial ceasefires took place in the Western Front.
In some sectors, soldiers from opposing sides entered into no man’s land and exchanged food, cigarettes and articles of uniform as souvenirs. Activities also included carol singing, football and burials.
Throughout the month of December 1914, some 460,000 parcels and 2.5 million letters were sent to personnel serving with the British forces in France. Each soldier received a Christmas Card from King George V, and the Princess Mary’s Fund sent a small brass box of gifts, including tobacco or writing sets, to serving soldiers. German soldiers received gift boxes and miniature replica Christmas Trees from Germany.
The impromptu truces of December 1914 did not reoccur and the next ceasefire didn’t materialise until November 1918.