In recognition of the significance of the Battle of the Somme, the Irish Government has developed the Battle of the Somme Commemorative Programme 2016. This forms part of the Decade of Centenaries programme, which is co-ordinated and overseen by the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht.
The Programme, marking the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme, will incorporate Ireland’s participation in the official commemoration preparations for events at the Somme, being co-ordinated jointly by the relevant French and British authorities.
Ireland has a strong military tradition. Even before the departure of the “Wild Geese” after the Treaty of Limerick, Irish soldiers had practised their profession abroad. Throughout the 19th century, the British Army in Ireland provided a convenient opportunity for young men interested in the profession of arms. Ireland was divided into recruiting regions for regiments, offering secure income, attractive environments and the opportunity to travel abroad. Some enlisted in the British Navy. Potential recruits were aware that Irish emigrants to the United States had served with distinction on both sides in the American Civil War.
When Great Britain declared war on 4 August 1914, some 20,000 Irishmen were already serving in the British Army with another 30,000 as reservists.
The Battle of the Somme, which commenced on 1 July 1916, was one of the bloodiest battles of the First World War. The total number of casualties exceeded one million, including 3,500 Irish soldiers from all parts of the island, with many more wounded, serving with the 36th Ulster Division and the 16th Irish Division. Added to these were the Irish soldiers who fought in other divisions. The total number of Irish casualties cannot be calculated with certainty but they affected every part of the island. The news of the large numbers of Irish casualties on the Somme reached an Ireland already in turmoil following the Easter Rising and its aftermath.
The Programme aims to honour all those who took part in the conflict and to acknowledge the devastation caused to their families, comrades, friends and communities. The Programme will comprise a range of events under four Strands: Ceremonial; Historical and Education Reflection; Cultural; and Community Participation. The events include:
- The principal commemoration for the Battle of the Somme will take place at the Thiepval Memorial on 1 July 2016, jointly hosted by France and the United Kingdom (co-owners of the site). Ireland will be officially represented at a high level at this event.
- A State-led commemoration will take place on 9 July, 2016 at the Irish National War Memorial Park, Islandbridge, in conjunction with the Royal British Legion, on the same weekend as the National Day of Commemorations.
- A military ceremony will be held at 0720hrs on1 July, 2016 at the Irish National War Memorial Park, Islandbridge, honouring the Irish Regiments who fought at the Somme and WW1.
- The Somme Association will hold its major annual event in Guillemont on 3 September 2016 to marks the participation of the 16th Irish Division which saw action during the first weeks of September. Ireland will be officially represented at this event.
- On 13 November, the annual Remembrance Sunday events will take place in Belfast and Enniskillen to commemorate Armistice Day. Ireland will continue to be represented at a high level at both events.
- The ‘Other Voices’ project, involving the National Museum and Poetry Ireland, with Dermot Bolger as poet-in-residence (March to August 2016), will explore the stories of Irishmen at the Somme and those who were involved in the 1916 Rising.
- The National Archives of Ireland will highlight its digitised collection of wills from soldiers killed in WW1.
- A series of commemorative stamps to mark the centenary of the Battle of the Somme will be issued by An Post in 2016.
- UCD will host an event on 9 September 2016 to mark the death of Tom Kettle at Ginchy.
- The Irish Embassy in Paris is finalising plans with the relevant French authorities to present a co-production between the Abbey Theatre, Headlong, Citizens Theatre and Liverpool Everyman & Playhouse Theatre of the iconic play Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Towards The Somme by Frank McGuinness, on the eve of the Somme commemorations in June 2016 in France, close to the scene of the battle.
- Glasnevin Cemetery Trust will present an outdoor exhibition starting on 1 July with a focus on the 36th Ulster Division, changing in September to reflect the participation of the 16th Irish Division in September 1916.
Speaking at the launch, An Taoiseach, Enda Kenny T.D. said:
“2016 is a very important year for Ireland as we commemorate events that shaped the history of our island over the last 100 years. In recent years we have all come to a greater understanding of the many strands of our history from that period. Complementing the Government’s program for the Easter Rising, we are announcing today our 2016 Commemoration Programme for the Battle of the Somme“.
“In commemorating the Battle of the Somme, we are remembering all those from this island who died during this terrible period in 1916. We remember the huge losses experienced by the 36th Ulster Division and the 16th Irish Division and the indescribable impact that this had on the island of Ireland – a loss that has transcended generations“.
“The Somme Programme that we are publishing today will commemorate this important period in our history, and all those who lost their lives, in a dignified and respectful way.”
Announcing details of the Programme, the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Ms. Heather Humphreys, T.D. said:
“As we move closer to next year, we must be conscious that events in 2016 will resonate to different traditions on this island in different ways. This programme of events, to remember those who lost their lives during the horrific Battle of the Somme, is an inclusive, respectful and appropriate approach to the commemoration“.
“Through the Decade of Centenaries, we can honour all those who died and who served in the Great War and hear their stories. I encourage everyone to become involved and discover more about this fateful episode of the War.”
Mr. Charlie Flanagan, T.D. Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, in welcoming the programme stated:
“Next year, we will join with our neighbours in Northern Ireland and across Europe in remembering the huge losses of lives incurred during the Battle of the Somme in 1916, including the many thousands from across this island. In addition to remembering all those who died, and the deep loss felt by their families and communities, this Programme of commemorative events will help build an understanding of the events of 1916 in all their complexity and diversity, and explore how they have resonated through the years since.”
Additional Information – Decade of Centenaries
Since 2012, the Decade of Centenaries programme has been engaged in delivering a balanced chronological commemorative programme with selected focused events in each year, including the Home Rule Bill in 1912; the Dublin Lockout in 1913; the outbreak of the First World War in 1914; and the Gallipoli campaign in 1915.
The Expert Advisory Group on Commemorations was established by the Taoiseach in 2011. Its role is to advise the Government on historical matters relating to the Decade of Centenaries, and to consult widely with academic, community and voluntary groups and members of the public to ensure that significant events are commemorated accurately, proportionately and appropriately in tone.
See also www.decadeofcentenaries.ie