Saturday, July 9, 2016

Update 9th July

The Somme - Reflections.

I meant to refer to the subject of The Battle of the Somme last week when the Centenary Anniversary of its beginning occurred. Now I have a kind of a problem in that I am a jack of a number of trades (interests) but I would allow myself as being pretty good at just one.
What grade I would get for knowledge and interpretation on World War 1 is problematic. I did watch on television, the afternoon ‘Commemoration Ceremonies’ at the Ulster Tower, in Thiepval in France on July 1st. There was a broad representation of people and ‘dignitaries’ from the U.K. and particularly Northern Ireland. On July 1st 1916 a number of Northern Ireland regiments ‘went over the top’ of their trenches to attack German positions. They were assured that, following a massive artillery bombardment, the German resistance would be minimal and that they were to ‘walk forward in an orderly line’. The artillery bombardment did not achieve its objectives in subduing the German defences and the advancing British lines were cut down by German machine guns. By lunchtime 25 to 30 thousand had been killed in the killing fields of no man’s land. The First Battle of the Somme lasted 141 days, during which British forces suffered 420,000 casualties, making it the most costly military action that they participated in during the First World War; the French suffered 220,000 casualties, while the Germans suffered as many as 500,000 casualties. So well over one million men were casualties of that series of battles known as The (First) Battle of the Somme. It was a criminal suicidal slaughter.
Present for the first time at the commemoration was the Irish Catholic Primate Archbishop Martin and the Irish Government was represented by Minister Humphreys. I imagine it must be a very affecting experience to be present on an occasion like that and in an environment where so many died terribly. There were prayers, military musical salutes and readings. One reading was of a letter of a mother to John Redmond regarding her ‘lost son’ and as the words were read the camera panned to a lady with tears rolling down her face. I was reminded of a poem in a first year English book I used when I first started teaching in St. Mary’s College. Perhaps Paddy McLoughlin might remember it? It was ‘Reconciliation’ by one of the great ‘War Poets’ of World War 1 Siegfried Sassoon, a blue blood Englishman despite his name.

When you are standing at your hero’s grave,
Or near some homeless village where he died,
Remember, through your heart’s rekindling pride,
The German soldiers who were loyal and brave.

Men fought like brutes; and hideous things were done;
And you have nourished hatred, harsh and blind.
But in that Golgotha perhaps you’ll find
The mothers of the men who killed your son.
...Siegfried Sassoon

At the end of the moving ceremony the final speaker used for me an unfortunate phrase along the lines that they were also ‘celebrating what was achieved here’. It is hard to rationalise what was ‘achieved’ in that Golgotha. Nothing if not lessons and not even those then as nobody shouted stop and the killing went on for over two more years. A phrase critical of the leadership of such as General Douglas Haig emerged ‘Lions led by donkeys’.  Indeed it is surprising that some of those responsible were not treated as war criminals. History is written by the victors of course so Haig and Bomber Harris of WW2 got away with it.

I have a very old book of pictures of ‘The Western Front’ and its brutality was certainly recorded in it. Of course we have been exposed to little from the German side of the conflict though one of the great novels of that war is Eric Marie Remarque’s ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’. A number of years ago I visited a World War 2 battle site in Italy at Monte Casino. While we were directed to Polish and allied graveyards when I mentioned a German graveyard the guide  was surprised.
Probably the finest film projecting an aspect of the war on The Western Front was ‘Paths to Glory’. Paths of Glory is a 1957 American anti-war film by Stanley Kubrick. The film stars Kirk Douglas as Colonel Dax, the commanding officer of French soldiers who refuse to continue a suicidal attack. Dax attempts to defend them against a charge of cowardice in a court-martial. In case you get a chance to see it you can only guess its ending here.

I am not aware of poetry from WW2 but there are several iconic poems from WW1. I’ll just give some well-known lines from a few. I might mention also that there were two Irish poets killed Tom Kettle  Sept. 1916, (of whom I know little) and Francis  Ledwidge killed in July 1917.  

In Flanders Fields, by John McRae
(The evolution of the poppy as a symbol)

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,

Dulce et Decorum Est, by Wilfred Owen

The poem is not espousing what it says in the title.
The Soldier, by Rupert Brooke
(This is really a tribute to his homeland, England)

If I should die, think only this of me:
That there’s some corner of a foreign field
That is forever England. There shall be
In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;

For the Fallen by Robert L.  Binyon
( The classic poem of remembrance)

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

The Somme was one of history’s myriad examples of ‘man’s inhumanity to man’ on a huge scale.

The Chilcott Report on decision to go to war in Iraq in 2003

The road to World War 1 was a domino effect and a struggle between Imperial powers. The victims were the working classes who responded pretty blindly to jingoistic recruiting  and were slaughtered as mentioned above. In England today, Wednesday the 6th, we have the publication of a very important report by John Chilcott on the decision by the Britain to go to war in Iraq in 2003. The premise for doing so was that its leader, Sadaam Hussein, had and was ready to use ‘Weapons of Mass Destruction’. This was not the case. British Prime Minister Tony Blair orchestrated that Great Britain would form the dominant alliance with the U.S. led by President Bush to invade Iraq. The American position emerged because of the appalling bombing in the U.S. in September 11, 2001.

Mr Blair:
"I took the decision, I accept full responsibility for it and I stand by it. I only ask with humility that the British people believe that I took this decision...based on the information I had."

He says he wanted to do what was right and felt a "profound obligation" to take responsibility.

Mister Blair had the potential to become a great social prime Minister but for whatever reason felt compelled to follow President Bush into Iraq. It is suggested that much of the chaos in the Middle East presently stems from then and transfers its ominous shadows  world-wide today. So Blair will be forever be associated with what is regarded today as a huge mistake. I hear him on television now espousing that we ‘made mistakes and we should learn from them’.  History is crowded with repeated mistakes with their terrible consequences. Despite a shaken Blair apologising for ‘mistakes’ he still sticks to his belief that it was the ‘right decision’ as he drowns in contradictory validation. It is unlikely that his position will get much sympathy. It is suggested that the families of English soldiers killed and injured in Iraq will take Mister Blair to the courts which will -if it happens- establish a decent precedent in Western democracy.

(It is a bit difficult to move on here from such depressing scenarios as touched on in the two subjects above.)

Enda Kenny Watch-Current Difficulties
1. It was pretty amateurish that, in the wake of the result of the U.K. Referendum, the reasonable idea of an All-Ireland Forum did not have a chance of becoming a reality because of basic error in communication. Apparently the North of Ireland First Minister, Arlene Foster, was not aware of the idea as it had not been communicated to her before it became public.
2. Allowing the Independents a ‘free vote ’ on a controversial policy issue against the advice of the Attorney General.
3. Trying to bat away suggestions of a deal with Michael Lowry T.D. for Tipperary.
Present commentary suggest that his position is eroding. The probability is that there will be an  another election in the not too distant future.

Consumer Issues of the Moment.
1. I mentioned Refuse charges last week and my surprise at the €17 a month ‘service charge’ by Barna Waste when the same charge by the company in Leitrim is €20 per quarter. I got a phone call regarding another provider in the Boyle area, Weirs of Tuam. I don’t know the extent of this company’s involvement in Boyle. Perhaps it is worth investigating. I have ‘signed up’ with Barna for now but will watch as things develop.  
2. The huge rise in car insurance and the way this prevents young people from access to a basic right.


Connacht Final
The big game is the Connacht Final on Sunday in Pearse Stadium in Galway. How it will go nobody knows. At worst Roscommon people feel that their team is in with a fifty- fifty chance. The hope is that it is a good close game and that the weather is kind. Pearse Stadium can have a cold wind blowing in from the bay. I wish those involved the very best of course and especially our strong Boyle links to the enterprise.
The Roscommon U 21 All-Ireland winners of fifty years ago are being honoured on Sunday and will be introduced to the crowd at approximately 1.20. I mentioned in error last week that the Mayo minor winners of ’66 and the Galway three-in-a-row team were also being honoured. That is not the case. It is just Roscommon. I know a good few of that Roscommon U 21 team and they are really looking forward to meeting their colleagues of fifty years ago. Pat Nicholson of Corrigeenroe has arranged to be there in coming home from the U.S.

Boyle GAA
Boyle Seniors just lost out, in a very good game and performance, to Roscommon Gaels in the Abbey Park. Boyle were much depleted on the day but it is good to see a number of young players coming through and doing well.

Boyle Juniors went down to Tulsk at Tulsk on Friday evening in another good sporting game. All the team did their very best and despite the loss there old style elements of the ‘amateur’ nature of the game prevailed in terms of sportsmanship and lack of aggression. This was repeated by the same team on the hill-top ground of St. Dominick’s on Wednesday evening last in biting rain. Well done to Shane Spellman who succeeded in having a squad there,  including a good few young fellows

Girls and Ladies GAA Stars
The win for Leitrim over Sligo in the All-Ireland Girls Final was a colourful showpiece event at the Abbey Park on Friday evening. The skill of a lot of the young girls was very impressive. I remember in Nenagh when Roscommon girls under 16 girls team played in a final there and the skill exhibited by all and especially by Roisin Wynne from Boyle was of the highest order. A dedicated Leitrim supporter suggested to me that one of their girls was ‘the best overall footballer in Leitrim at the moment’. I saw it suggested in a newspaper that Cora Staunton must be the greatest Mayo footballer of all-time with here phenomenal scoring rates such as 2.14 in the Connacht Final v Galway and scoring 9.12 in a club game last summer.

The Euros
And so the Euros are coming to a close with the final being next Sunday in Paris. Some ladies may be pleased to get their televisions back for those prime hours from 7.30 to 10. The semi-finals were mixed with one good one poor. The Wales v Portugal game did not live up to its expectation and had few highlights. One was the sublime headed goal by Cristiano Ronaldo. The France v German game was a top class all-action contest. France got the couple of breaks they needed and  goal scorer Antoine Griezmann has emerged as player of the tournament. A number of German players are suggesting that there is a return to 16 teams as opposed to 24 and that has merit but it would probably exclude teams like ourselves and Iceland and so on. Still it has been a long tournament for some players and viewers.

(I’d like to recommend a piece I read by Joe Brolly on the changing face of Northern Ireland as relayed against the backdrop of the Euros and the participation of Ireland north and south headed; Joe Brolly: Northern Ireland is a different world and my kids know nothing of The Troubles).

Sin é. I’ve gone on too long. Must do better. See some of you in The Galway Bay Hotel in Salthill.

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