British government to be represented at 1916 centenary

Northern Secretary attends ‘Cross of Sacrifice’ WWI event in Glasnevin Cemetery

The British Government will send representatives to the Easter 1916 commemorations in two years' time, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Theresa Villiers has said.

Ms Villiers and the Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht Jimmy Deenihan laid the foundation stone this evening for the Cross of Sacrifice to remember the Irish dead from the First World War who are buried in Glasnevin Cemetery.

The seven metre tall cross will be unveiled on July 31st and will be the centrepiece memorial in Ireland to mark the 100th anniversary of the First World War.

Ms Villiers said the Cross of Sacrifice, coming as it does a week before the state visit to Britain by President Michael D Higgins, demonstrated the warmth of the relationship between the Irish and British governments.


She acknowledged that the contribution of Irish soldiers to the British war effort during the First World War was not well known either in Britain or Ireland though almost 200,000 signed up to fight out of an eligible population of 700,000.

She also said the British Government will play its part in the decade of centenaries in Ireland including the Easter Rising commemorations.

“We want to see all those centenaries commemorated with respect and in an inclusive way,” she said. “I was grateful that the Tánaiste issued an invitation to the UK Government and to the Royal family to play a part in those commemorations of 1916. Certainly there will be representation from the British Government at it.”

Mr Deenihan said the cross will be a “poignant reminder” of the huge number of Irish people who signed up to fight in the First World War. Those who fought were part of a “blighted generation” and the war affected families all over the country, he said.

Members of the British and Irish parliamentary assembly, the British ambassador to Ireland Dominick Chilcott and DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson, who is the chair of the Northern Ireland centenary commemoration committee, also attended the event.

Mr Donaldson said Unionists would have difficulties participating in an Easter 1916 event which they had no part in.

"There must be sensitivities shown in how the Irish Government approach the whole question of 1916 and they must be careful that Sinn Féin do not hijack the events because that would be very difficult and would be damaging to relations between Unionists and Nationalists and both parts of these islands."

He said the Cross of Sacrifice and the willingness of the Irish Government to remember those who died in the First World War had depoliticised something that was highly politicised in the past.

“We have many things that divide us, but this is part of our shared history. Men from all over the island of Ireland fought in the First World War for a noble cause. They fought together and died together. I have been pressing for a long time that this should happen. It is appropriate that it is happening on the eve of the 100th anniversary of the First World War.”

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy is a news reporter with The Irish Times