War to peace: Our brave hearts vowed they would never forget to remember

    Donal Croghan, chairman Kilkenny Great War Committee, centre with Margaret Leahy and JJ Doolan, both of whose forbears are remembered on our city’s war memorial at the Peace Park Pic: Donal Foley

    By Jimmy Rhatigan

    IT WAS poignant, it was precious, peaceful too, a reminder perhaps that old soldiers never really die.

    It was proof positive that there is always a bond between comrades, regardless of the passing of Father Time or changes in society.

    Away from the passion of the World Cup Soccer Finals in Russia and the excitement of

    All-Ireland hurling fervor in Semple Stadium, Thurles, there was a wonderful  ambience of peace and tranquility on the banks of the River Nore on Sunday as a city and county paid tribute to its war fallen of another time.

    The setting could hardly have been more apt. There was a certain irony that a war memorial was being unveiled at our local Peace Park, a contradiction in some terms, yet a practical and loving reminder that sons and daughters of Kilkenny who fought in World War 1 were finally at peace.

    Lest we forget, the 827 men and women, children of the black and amber, will not have gone to war because they had a penchant for fighting and killing.

    Joining any army at the time became a way of life, a necessity, a possible life-saver in a game of Russian Roulette, a meal ticket not for soldiers only but for spouses and children.

    Back home and a new foe to confront

    Kilkenny men and women who took part in a famous march from Stephens Barracks in 2104, as they headed for the killing fields, knew that their new life, dangerous as it could be, would ensure them of three meals a day.

    They knew too that, if they survived, they would get free education and that there were army allowances for wives and children while the bread earners were doing battle on foreign soil.

    Sisters Marie McKee and Trish Davis, members of Kilkenny’s Unity Singers
    In loving memory

    Then there was the lure of the opportunity to see the world.

    Those who were killed, many of whom died horrific deaths, paid a heavy price for family loyalty and hoped for survival.

    Those who made it back home, with war wounds or in reasonable good shape, had a new foe to confront.

    It was impossible to get any other work on returning with the word ‘soldier’ on your curriculum vitae.

    Taking all that into consideration, we know that our local forebears and thousands of others from around Ireland never made it into any books of Irish history.

    The soldiers never got the recognition their bravery so richly deserved.

    That was until the weekend, when, thanks to the battling spirit and unbelievable resilience of our Kilkenny Great War Committee, a memorial stone was unveiled by Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan.

    There had to be an easing of pain that may have lingered in the hearts of relatives of the deceased, relief too that, with respect, the boys, girls too, were back in town.

    It took far too long for soldiers of 1914-1918 to get proper recognition.

    For a time it looked as if it might be as long before our bold War Committee would achieve their aims.

    It is almost eight years since a memorial project was launched, 2,922 days ago, to be precise, as a laborious journey encountered many obstacles.

    Miles of red tape and pot-hole riddled avenues often led to

    cul-de-sacs.

    An irony of a different kind is that World War 1 lasted for 1,564 days. What we might term our committee’s local Road to Damascus took almost twice as long before mission accomplished could be tagged to any file that was kept on Operation Memorial.

    Respect and dignity is finally restored

    Pics: Donal Foley

    Family members of the soldiers will no doubt appreciate the work of our modern day memorial soldiers who refused to wilt, stuck to their guns and achieved what at times looked to be a mission impossible.

    Hats, berets or otherwise, off to chairman Donal Croghan,

    vice-chair John Joe Cullen, secretary Annemarie Gleeson, treasurer Ken Kinsella, Bernie Egan, Paddy Horohan, James Cartwright, Mick McLoughlin and Jim Corcoran.

    Our Great War Committee and friends, resilient and hard-working
    The pipes were calling

    Our county council got on board and provided funding of €20,000 a year to the monument fund.

    The council forked out two thirds of the cost while the memorial committee contributed the rest.

    Overall cost of the development was €180,000, €45,000 from the memorial committee and the remainder from the council.

    There was a €15,000 donation from the Royal British Legion, Republic of Ireland branch, towards the work.

    On a sombre Sabbath, St Patrick’s Brass Band provided musical entertainment, along with our Unity Singers.

    The day was extra special for a majority of the organizing committee who had direct forbears killed in WW1.

    It was perhaps exceptional too for those who may live or may have lived in Maudlin Street or Walkin Street in our city which was home for many soldiers of yesteryear.

    Twenty one soldiers from Maudlin Street lost their lives in WW1.

    Fr Willie Purcell and Sam Harper said prayers and members of our Defence Forces provided a colourful and moving support to a ceremony that included the Last Post and Reveille and our National Anthem.

    Donal Croghan acknowledged the support the project received from county council management  and elected members.

    Council chair Eamon Aylward said the monument was a testament to quality , quality stakeholder relationships, quality design, quality location and quality finish.

    Mayor Peter ‘Chap’ Cleere said it was poignant to reflect on the extent to which Kilkenny lives were lost in World War 1.

    The sun shone on relatives and friends of our fallen as they focused on a final chapter that took so long to write.

    The memorial site will be a riverside focus of peace, prayer and tranquility as men and women of courage, written out of history by successive Irish Governments, have finally had their respect and dignity restored.

    The latter is not thanks to official Ireland but to a group of local committee men and women who refused to forget to remember.