Centenary of the Gallipoli Campaign

The centenary of the start of the military phase of the Gallipoli campaign on 25 April 1915 will be well commemorated in Australia and New Zealand, as might be expected. Although many thousands of Irishmen served at Gallipoli and died there, the campaign is not well known in Ireland and has not been widely commemorated there. In recent decades ex-pat Australians and New Zealanders have conducted ceremonies in Dublin on the anniversary of the landing at Grangegorman Military Cemetery and at St Ann’s Church in Dawson Street. This year, however, with the centenary of the campaign, a number of events in Ireland will mark the occasion.

Beneath a Turkish SkyOne in particular should attract considerable interest. At 3pm on 25 April 2015 at the Dublin City Library and Archive, 138-144 Pearse Street, Philip Lecane will give a talk entitled “Beneath a Turkish Sky: The Royal Dublin Fusiliers and the Assault on Gallipoli” This is the title of Philip’s forthcoming book which is scheduled for publication in June by The History Press Ireland. It is not widely known that during the landing at V Beach at Cape Helles the Irish suffered more casualties than did the Australians and New Zealanders in their landing at the beach at Anzac Cove.

Other events include the “Gallipoli 100” conference In Kells, County Meath, on 24-25 April 2015 in St Columba’s Church of Ireland church in Market St and a wreath laying ceremony at the Mayo Peace Park in Castlebar. No doubt there will be many others.

In addition, the History Hub at University College Dublin is publishing a six-part series of podcasts on the Irish at Gallipoli which I recorded during my time as the Keith Cameron Chair of Australian History in 2014.

Irish Anzacs Project

IAP Logo 3The Irish Anzacs Project is a significant research undertaking of the Global Irish Studies Centre (now called Irish Studies at UNSW), made possible by a grant from the Irish government’s Emigrant Support Program. The project aims to identify all Irish-born enlistments in the Australian Imperial Force during the First World War, or as close to all as is practicable, and to compile a publicly accessible database containing information on each of them. The database will provide families with information on their Irish-born family members who served in the war as well as providing statistical information to assist researchers understand the contribution of the Irish to the Australian war effort.

The information in the database has been extracted from service records held by the National Archives of Australia and includes the following details: name, town and county of birth, date and place of enlistment, declared age, occupation, marital status, next of kin location, previous military service, religion, and the unit to which initially posted. Over time, additional information is being added from other sources such as the Roll of Honour, the Embarkation Roll, the Nominal Roll, the list of Awards and Decorations and the Red Cross files relating to the wounded and missing and to prisoners of war, ultimately producing for each soldier a comprehensive record. When completed the database will contain details of more than 6000 Irish-born soldiers and nurses who enlisted in the Australian forces.

Mr Charlie Flanagan TD launching Irish Anzacs database in Ireland at UCD

The Irish Anzacs database was launched in Ireland on 17 October 2014 by the Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs Mr Charlie Flanagan TD at University College Dublin with a live Skype link to the Global Irish Studies Centre at the University of New South Wales in Sydney. The launch of the database was followed by a full-day symposium “Emergent Nations: Australia and Ireland in the First World War – Gallipoli, Conscription and Commemoration“. The Australian launch of the Irish Anzacs database will take place on 28 March 2015 during the 14th Australasian Congress on Genealogy and Heraldry in Canberra.

To access the Irish Anzacs database go to the webpage of Irish Studies at UNSW.

Keith Cameron Lecture 2014

Brennan - KCL 2014

Fr Frank Brennan SJ gave the 2014 Keith Cameron
Lecture at University College Dublin on 22 September in the presence of the President of UCD Professor Andrew Deeks and the Australian Ambassador to Ireland Dr Ruth Adler. The annual lecture is the most significant event in the calendar of the Keith Cameron Chair of Australian History at UCD. As the current holder of the chair I was delighted when Fr Brennan accepted my invitation to give the lecture. I have known Fr Brennan for more than 30 years and he has always impressed me as one of Australia’s finest activist intellectuals and a brilliant speaker on topical subjects with an uncanny ability to explain complex issues of public policy to a general audience without sacrificing the subtleties and nuances of the debate. On this occasion he spoke about Australia’s controversial asylum seeker policy explaining its history and background and arguing the need for a moral foundation to the policy rather than one justified by narrow legalism based on a strict reading of international conventions. The large audience who squeezed into the lecture room in the John Henry Newman Building did not leave UCD disappointed. And the high quality of the questions from those who came to hear the lecture gave the speaker an opportunity to expand on the subject and to put the Australian experience into the broader context of the problems facing all First World countries, including Ireland, in dealing justly with persons fleeing persecution while maintaining border security. The moral force of Fr Brennan’s argument is compelling and you can read the full text of the lecture here. 

Anzac Day in Dublin 2014

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Jeff Kildea giving Anzac address at Grangegorman Military Cemetery (Courtesy Michael Lee)

When I arrived at Dublin’s Grangegorman Military Cemetery this morning at 6 o’clock for the Anzac Day dawn service to commemorate all those who died in the Gallipoli campaign of 1915, a crescent moon was rising in the east. Very appropriate, I thought. After all, the victors in that campaign were the Turks, whose national flag includes a crescent moon. Just as Australians and New Zealanders regard that campaign as of the utmost significance in the emergence of their nationhood, so too do the people of modern Turkey, whose first president Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the great military hero of the campaign, had defended his country from the invaders.

I am well familiar with Grangegorman Military Cemetery. I had visited it many times while researching Anzacs and Ireland. Buried there are seven Australian soldiers of the First World War and three New Zealanders. Of those, four Australians and two New Zealanders died when the RMS Leinster, the mailboat from Dublin to Holyhead, was torpedoed and sunk off the Irish coast, just one month before the end of the war, with the loss of more than 500 lives. I had written about those soldiers in the book.

For Australians and New Zealanders, the 25th of April, the anniversary of the landing at Gallipoli is the main focus of their national commemorations of their countrymen who died in that campaign and in other military conflicts. Thousands of Irishmen also died at Gallipoli, but they have largely been forgotten in Ireland.

While the antipodean nations along with the Turks see the Gallipoli campaign as the crucible of their nations, for the Irish it is the Easter Rising of 1916 and the War of Independence (1919-1921). After the Irish had won their independence and established their state in 1922, their nation-building understandably focussed on the struggle for independence, not the part that Irish soldiers had played in what many regarded as “England’s war”. In recent years attitudes have changed. Ireland is now a mature, confident nation state and its people are increasingly looking back to that war and giving recognition to the sacrifice made by the more than 35 000 Irishmen who died fighting for what they believed was a righteous cause.

That recognition was evidenced today by the presence at the ceremony of more than 200 people, mostly Irish, including the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Jimmy Deenihan and representatives of the Defence Forces of Ireland.

To me, today’s service in Dublin was extra special as I had been given the honour of delivering the Anzac Day address. It gave me, as an Australian of Irish descent, the opportunity to pay regard to the part played by the Irish in the war, particularly the more than 6000 Irish men and women who served in the Australian forces and the more than 900 who were killed or died of wounds or illness related to their war service. Among them were thirteen Irishmen who, wearing the Australian uniform, were killed on the day of the landing at Gallipoli 99 years ago today. And to underline the personal tragedy which is the nature of war, I recited the name, age, occupation and birthplace of each of them. I was delighted afterwards by the number of Irish people who took the trouble to speak with me and to commend me for having done so and for having spoken about the part played by the Irish in the war.

As the rising sun broke through the trees overlooking the graves at Grangegorman and cast its light and warmth on this cold place, I concluded my address with the following words:

Mindful that the loss of life in war is “always personal, always tragic, and always has consequences”,* it is right that we remember the individual men and women killed in the war and their families left with long mourning and deep grief. In that way, we commemorate our war dead, not to glorify their deeds, for there is no glory in war, but to see them as our father, our mother; our brother, our sister; our son, our daughter, whose life was precious, and then to echo Pope Paul’s exhortation to the UN: “No more war, war never again”.

(* Michael McKernan, Gallipoli, Allen & Unwin, Sydney, 2010)