Military heritage tours Ltd ,Ireland

MILITARY HERITAGE TOURS LTD  COUGHLAN VC DAY SPEECH


GREETINGS

Minister for Defence Mr. Michael Smith,
Col Downes representing Brig Gen Swords GOC 4 Bde
HE Mr Stuart Eldon, British Ambassador to Ireland and Mrs Eldon,
Col Cummings DA BE, and Mrs Cummings.
Sir Kenneth Bloomfield.
Military Heritage Trust of Ireland
Military History Society of Ireland
Descendants of Cornelius Coughlan VC, Patricia O’Callaghan and party from Glasgow and the Coughlins from Bradford.
ONE Castlebar and Air Corps.
IUNVA
Regimental Associations.
Professors of History North and South

Distinguished military and civilian guests, historians, ladies, gentlemen and friends.

First of all I want to thank the people without whom this day would not have been possible:

Mr. Jim McNally, the Curator of this magnificently restored historic cemetery
Mr. Niall Halpin, who prepared the grave and produced this magnificent headstone
Col Cummings Defence Attaché in the British Embassy, whose assistance and advice was always forthcoming and generous.
The Chief of Staff Lt Gen Sreenan
Miss Mary Angela Kelly from Altamount St. where Couhglan VC lived for forty years, whose support was unflagging.
Mrs Patricia O’Callaghan, great granddaughter of Cornelius whose assistance was Trojan.

The many Sponsors in particular The Mayo News, The South West Mayo Development Company and the Victoria Cross & George Cross Association and the ONE (a full list is published in the commemorative brochure).

I am a bit surprised that the Heritage Council did not support this project and I am further surprised that the Anglo Irish Division of the Dept of Foreign Affairs seem not to appreciate the reconciliation work that Military Heritage Tours is engaged in.

I bid you a very warm welcome to this very special day, Sgt Maj Coughlan VC Day.


THE VICTORIA CROSS

The Victoria Cross is arguably, the world’s most prestigious bravery award, competing only with America’s Medal of Honour for this distinction. The Medal of Honour was won also by many Irishmen, three of whom were born very close to here. United States Navy Fireman “Iron” Mike Gibbons of the USS Nashville was awarded the Medal of Honour in the same action as Belmullet man First Sergeant Philip Gaughan USMC during the Spanish-American war. Iron Mike Gibbons is buried in Newport, eight miles from here. Robert Emmet O’Malley, whose father John was born in Rossanrubble, less than a mile from Iron Mike Gibbons home in Kilmeena, was wounded in action three times and was the first Marine to be awarded the Medal of Honour in the Vietnam War.


HISTORY OF THE VC

Prior to Queen Victoria’s authorisation of the VC in 1856, there were few gallantry awards available to servicemen, none of which were applicable to all ranks.

The situation changed with the introduction of the Victoria Cross. It became the first totally democratic award. All persons were to be placed on a “perfectly equal footing” and “neither rank nor long service, nor wounds nor any other quality whatsoever, save the merit of conspicuous bravery” would qualify an individual for the award.

The metal from which the medal is struck comes from the cascables of cannon captured from the Russians at Sebastapol, during the Crimea War. These cannon had in turn been captured from the Chinese so the metal is in fact from the Orient.
It was deliberately not jewelled or diamond encrusted so that it’s value would be minimal in monetary terms (it was thought) in order to dissuade any recipient who fell on hard times from realising it’s face value.

Since it’s inception the VC has been awarded 1354 times. Research published by David Truesdale and Richard Doherty in “Irish Winners of the Victoria Cross” shows that at least 200 Irishmen have merited this award.

On 26 June 1857 the first VCs were awarded by Queen Victoria in Hyde Park. 62 soldiers and sailors of various ranks, paraded to receive their decoration. The first two men Queen Victoria decorated that day were Irish:
Both had been commissioned from the ranks as a result of their bravery in action.
Lt Charles David Lucas Royal Navy, and
Ensign Luke O’Connor 23rd Regiment.
Both later achieved ranks of Rear Admiral and Major General respectively. Out of the 62 servicemen on parade that first awards day Queen Victoria had the great honour of decorating more than 24 Irishmen.
To go through the history of all Irish VC’s here would be time consuming, as one will appreciate so let us mention just a number whom I have chosen;

Pte. (Later Sgt) Patrick Mylott VC, 84th Regt. Hollymount,
Claremorris,
Co. Mayo

Pte Patrick McHale VC, 5th Regt. Killala,
Co. Mayo

Rough Rider Edward Jennings VC, Bengal Arty Ballinrobe,
Co. Mayo.


Gunner Thos. Laughnan VC, Bengal Arty
Gort,
Co. Galway.

Sgt Maj (Later Lt) Alex Young VC, Cape Police
Clarinbridge,
Co. Galway

Drummer Dudley Stagpoole VC 57th Regt, Kilunan,
Galway

Pte John Purcell VC 9th Lancers
Oughterard,
Co. Galway

Pte (later Colour Sgt) Patrick Greene VC 75th Regt
Balllinasloe,
Co. Galway

Pte (later Sgt) Thomas Grady VC, 4th Rifles Claddagh,
Galway

Pte John Duane/Divane VC 60th Rifles Loughrea,
Co. Galway


Pte John Doogan VC 1st Dragoon Guards Aughrim,
Co. Galway

And the two youngest VC’s

Hospital Apprentice (Later Apothecary)
Andrew Fitzgibbon VC
Indian Army. Age 15
Athlone,
Co. Westmeath.

Drummer Thomas Flynn VC 64th Regiment Age 15 Athlone,
Co. Westmeath
Sgt Martin Doyle VC

And the Last Irish Recipient
L/Seaman James Joseph Magennis VC RN Belfast

SERGEANT MAJOR COUGHLAN VC

Sgt Major Cornelius Coughlan VC was born in Eyrecourt, Co. Galway in 1828. He joined the 75th Regiment (Later Gordon Highlanders) in 1846 and shipped to India the following year

He was decorated with the VC for:

“Venturing under a heavy fire with three others into a Serai occupied by the enemy in great numbers and removing Pte Corbett 75th Regt who lay severely wounded amongst a number of mutilated men, also for cheering and encouraging a party which hesitated to charge down a lane in Subgee Munday, Delhi, lined on each side with huts and raked by cross fire. Then entering a serai engaging with the enemy and destroying every man. For having also on the same occasion returned under crossfire to collect Dhoolies and carry off the wounded. A service which was successfully performed and for which he received great credit from the officers of the Regiment”.

He served 21 years, 13 of which were in India, with this Regiment, reaching the rank of Sgt Maj.

He then served as a Sergeant Major in 3 Bn Connaught Rangers on the Permanent Staff for 21 years in Westport, Co. Mayo. Sgt Maj Coughlan VC lived on Altamont St., Westport for the duration of his service with the Connaught Rangers and until the end of his life. 40 years in total. He was a very popular and respected citizen of Westport.

The Mayo News reported that:
“ His funeral was a big affair. A firing party from the Royal Field Artillery and the Fife and Drum Band from the 10th Hants Regiment, commanded by an officer in full regimentals proceeded to the church to take up their appointed positions. The firing party, 12 in number with arms reversed, marched in front of the hearse, and the band with big drum and four side drums draped, marched immediately behind. A detachment of the RIC followed and next came the hearse and the mourning carriages. As the cortege moved slowly forward, the drums rolled and the band played the funeral march “Indian Warriors Grave”. The rolling of the drums and the plaintive fifing of the fifes added much to the impressiveness of the procession and everywhere there was evidence of the last journey of one who in life had won his way into the hearts of the people amongst whom he had lived. It was indeed a fitting tribute to one of the bravest and most straight forward of men.
Arriving at Aughavale, the firing party took up their positions on each side of the grave and as the coffin was being lowered into the grave, three volleys were fired into the air and the buglers sounded the Last Post. The parting salute of the guns, the echoing blare of the bugles and a hero was laid to rest.
On the day of the Funeral the gallant Sgt Maj VC had four Grandsons in the Army, three going to the Front and one already there, he was at the time fighting at the Battle of La Baseé”.

And so this brave and immensely popular hero, winner of most prestigious awards ever conceived went to his eternal reward. Westport, Eyrecourt and Ireland lost somebody they had been so proud of. And so a year passed and presumably much thought was given to what type of headstone, or memorial should be erected.

The fact that this man served in an imperial army is not the point. The fact that he was denying the Indians their independence and imposing colonial rule was not the point. The point is that soldiers in combat are not thinking of ambition or lofty ideals, they are thinking of staying alive and their loyalty is to their comrades. The point is that Cornelius Coughlan VC proved his tremendous personal bravery by disregarding his personal safety and risked his life in horrendous circumstances in order to save others. The point is also that he again demonstrated his personal bravery and selflessness on another occasion when his officers were killed by taking over command and leading his wavering men to victory.


1916

The following year came 1916 and “a terrible beauty was born”. The political wind changed and blew and life was never the same again. The soldiers who wore the uniform that Cornelius wore were no longer welcome, his grave was consequently never marked and even he was eventually forgotten about, lying to this day 89 years later in an unmarked grave.

He was not the only soldier that was forgotten.


BACKGROUND

In 1912, when the Home Rule Bill was introduced Unionists reacted and formed the Ulster Volunteer Force to resist it. Weapons were openly imported from Germany without resistance from the Authorities. Ten’s of thousand’s of Unionists flocked to its ranks ready to resist Home Rule. In order to counteract this movement, designed to deny the democratic will of the Irish people, the Irish Volunteers were formed and 120,000 people joined it. Incidentally, one of the founders was a local officer, Colonel Maurice Moore, former Bn Commander 1 Bn Connaught Rangers and descendant of John Moore, President of the Connaught Republic as appointed by General Humbert in 1798.A small amount of weapons were smuggled in, again from Germany and in contrast to the UVF situation, the authorities actively resisted their import.

In 1914, the Great War commenced and the Home Rule Bill was put on hold for the duration of the War. The UVF quickly became absorbed into the British Army, desperately anxious to demonstrate it’s loyalty to Britain in time of danger. The 36th (Ulster) Division was formed and it fought with bravery and distinction and is remembered with pride.

The Irish Volunteers, like the rest of Ireland’s manhood, were encouraged by Nationalist politicians also to enlist. They were told that if Ireland supported Britain in time of danger, then her loyalty would be rewarded by the granting of Home Rule at wars end. People were encouraged with cries of “Fight for the Freedom of Small Nations”, “Poor Little Catholic Belgium” or “ Join an Irish Regiment”.

30,000 Irish Volunteers enlisted in the British Army in addition to the scores of thousands of other men who were not members of the Volunteers. The 16th (Irish) Division was formed in addition to the already existing 10th Division. They embarked for the battlefields cheered on by their politicians, clergy, family and countrymen, proud to do their duty for Ireland and for the cause of Britain and her allies. Like the 36th (Ulster) Division, they marched to their embarking stations cheered on by excited crowds of Union flag waving citizens. They fought with honour and distinction and died also in their many, many thousands.

Meanwhile, a minority group of Irish Volunteers thought that no matter what happened, no matter what sacrifice was made, that Britain would again bow to the demands of the minority that did not support Home Rule and that Ireland would never be allowed to achieve her freedom without force of arms. Given Britain’s record in these matters, this assumption was not unreasonable. They reckoned that “England’s difficulty was Ireland’s opportunity”. A Rising was planned without the knowledge of the leadership of the Irish Volunteers and again with German assistance. In 1916 this Rising took place, mainly in Dublin. A Republic was proclaimed and the fighting was eventually subdued. Many of the British troops in this action were indeed Irish soldiers from Irish Regiments. It was far from a popular Rising and in general, people were outraged that this could have happened.

As the captured prisoners were being marched from their place of surrender, they were attacked by Dublin mobs and were protected by their British Army escorts. Dublin was in ruins, many people had lost their jobs as a result, not to mention the casualties inflicted. Many citizens whose husbands, brothers and sons were at the front fighting for the “Freedom of Small Nations” and “Poor Little Catholic Belgium” in Irish Regiments, felt that they had been betrayed by the people who initiated and took part in the Rising. The Volunteers were heckled, spat at, kicked and abused as they were marched off to internment camps in Britain.

The British Government reacted harshly. The leaders were court-martialled and death sentences were imposed. However, the hand of justice was clumsy in many ways. The executions for example, were carried out over a protracted period. This situation caused people to think and after a while a grudging support was given to the Rising. People reckoned on reflection that in fact it was a brave effort and respect for the participants grew. This support continued to grow in the light of the lengthy detention of the thousands of people rounded up in the wake of the Rising. Many people who had nothing whatsoever to do with the Rising had been rounded up and transported to internment camps in Britain.

When eventually the prisoners were released, they came back to tumultuous receptions. Flag waving crowds (this time the Irish Tricolour, not the Union Flag) cheered them home as heroes to be honoured and returning warriors. The supply of Irish recruits to the British Army dropped and the British Government decided that conscription was the answer. The Conscription Act 1918 was passed in Parliament.

1918 CONSCRIPTION ACT

This was resisted strongly by the Nationalist leaders, primarily Sinn Féin and the Catholic Church. When the General Election was called in 1918 Sinn Féin candidates swept the board. The old Nationalist Home Rule Party was wiped out forever. The majority of Irish people voted for an Independent Republic. In 1919 the duly democratically elected Dáil convened in the Mansion House in Dublin and the Declaration of Independence was announced. On the same day two Royal Irish Constabulary men were ambushed and killed in Soloheadbeg, Co.Tipperary. The British Government declared the Dáil illegal and so war began. Initially the RIC bore the brunt of the attacks. They resigned in their thousands. The British Government hastily recruited men to reinforce the fast disappearing RIC. These men were in the main, former WW1 veterans who had come home from the trenches to the dole queues rather that to a land fit for heroes as had been promised them. In the haste to send them to Ireland they were issued with a combination of dark police uniform and military khaki, hence the sobriquet “Black and Tans”. These men who knew little else other than life in combat, and who still suffered the trauma of the appalling Great War were given good pay and a free rein in Ireland. They were for the main undisciplined to say the least, and a combination of money, alcohol and the freedom to terrorise as they pleased, ensured that the war was ratcheted up to a very bitter level indeed. This strategy was obviously not going to plan so a further force was created the Auxiliary Division RIC, ADRIC or “Auxies” as they were best known. They were composed of ex British Officers. They enjoyed and employed a free hand like the Black and Tans (and twice the pay) and were a much more formidable enemy. General Crozier, their General Officer Commanding eventually resigned as he could not stand over, tolerate or control their conduct.
War continued until 1921 when a truce was agreed. Following lengthy debates in London a treaty was signed in 1922. It was agreed that a Free State Government would be established with 26 Counties and a Northern Ireland Government would be established in 6 of the Ulster Counties to be known as Northern Ireland


What of the survivors

But what of the soldiers who left Ireland to fight in the Great War? What happened to the survivors. In the new Northern Ireland the returned troops were rightly welcomed home. They were lauded as heroes and never forgotten. Their blood spilled on behalf of the Allies spilled into the consciousness of every Loyalist and Unionist in Ireland and they are remembered very much to this day. Northern Ireland takes a tremendous pride in the 36th (Ulster) Division and commemorates them every year in the powerful, evocative and very emotional;
“They shall grow not old as we that are left grow old. Age shall not weary them or the years condemn. At the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember them”

And what of the 16th Division and the 10th Division? What happened to those survivors? They can be compared to American soldiers returning from Vietnam over fifty years later. The political climate had changed utterly. The warriors were no longer welcome. No cheering crowds, no emotional speeches of welcome home, well done, thank you. Those Irishmen instead of returning home to a land fit for heroes came home to suspicion and danger. The people that waved them out in 1914,15 and 16 now distrusted them as they had fought for Britain. Many, whose idealism and belief in the freedom of small nations continued, brought their expertise with them and joined the Old Irish Republican Army. They fought the British and fought them well. Names that come to mind were Major General Emmet Dalton, General Michael Collins right hand man. General Dalton, who as a Royal Dublin Fusilier Captain and who was horrified at the idea of the 1916 Rising, was decorated in Buckingham Palace with the Military Medal. General Tom Barry, former Royal Artillery Sergeant who saw the face of war in Mesopotamia, now Iraq, was the first to lead an assault and a very successful one, against the Auxies in Kilmichael, Co Cork. Former Sgt Martin Doyle VC, who was an intelligence officer for the West Clare Brigade, Old IRA. And later a commissioned officer in the new Irish Army.

But what of the unmentioned? Many were loyal to the Army with whom they had served and paid the ultimate price. Many were treated as outcasts in their own country, the country that they too had fought for! The majority kept their heads down in the New Ireland. Having survived the horrors of the Great War, they again suffered. No commemorative parades, no regimental reunions, no sharing of trauma and grief, no healing therapy. I remember as a boy seeing men in small tricycle contraptions, hand-wheeled, as they did not have legs and asking who they were. I was told that they were British soldiers from the War. No further comment. I thought no more of it at the time as after all “they were not Irish soldiers who fought for Ireland”.
They went eventually to their graves in silence, remembered by their families (those that had family) and their disappearing comrades. Not a word of thanks, not a sound, no plaintive bugle nor muffled drum nor wailing pipe. They disappeared, faded away.
My Grandfather, whom I remember, died in 1961. I found out that he was a Boer War veteran in the year 2000, nearly 40 years after his death. No one told me. I stumbled across this information. And when I produced his service record, few wanted to know.

It was as if all these soldiers had never existed. And yet, how many families in the Republic did not have a loved one who served in the British Forces. At one stage in the 19th Century 40% of the British Army was Irish. A similar number of men must have been in service with the Royal Navy although I do not have the figures to hand. The legacy of the War of Independence, the bitterness of the Civil War and subsequent head in the sand isolationist policies, where Defence was never a serious concern and Defence budgets constituted miserable tokenism, ensured that military matters were kept firmly in the background. The WW 1 Irish veteran soldiers who gave their all in their normal tradition, were never again mentioned much until 1966 when GPO 1916 survivor and Taoiseach, Sean Lemass paid them public tribute. He called on the people of Ireland to acknowledge the sacrifice that they had made. I am sure some of the old veterans smiled wryly, his call otherwise falling on deaf ears.


More Change

Finally, towards the end of the 20th century, things began to change in Ireland. A genuine breath of political fresh air swept across the country. The Government imposed isolationist wagon circle was broken. We were in the European Union. Society in general was thoroughly sickened by the continuing violence in Northern Ireland. A more free and tolerant society emerged and new horizons were established. People began to question the one sided version of history that all of us had been fed. The realisation of the sacrifices that the WW1 and indeed WW2 soldiers made for us finally began to dawn. Regimental Associations, to preserve their memories began to spring up. First the Munsters, then the Dubs and Connaughts and now the Leinsters I’m glad to say. It is right and proper to honour the memories of generations of Irish warriors who fought bravely in these ancient and proud old Regiments. They were disbanded in 1922 their Colours hanging since in Winsdor Castle. Many of these soldiers on disbandment joined the new Irish Army and brought their tradition, expertise and discipline to the fledgling Army. However they were again to be disbanded in the massive strength reductions in 1924.


However all is not yet righted. Problems remain. Many in the Unionist Community, whilst correctly remembering the glorious deeds of the 36th Division do not in general remember or commemorate the 16th and 10th Divisions. One might be inclined to think that it was only Unionist troops fought and died in the trenches of the Somme. The Poppy which is an emblem of Remembrance and from which the proceeds go to the charitable relief of veterans who are disabled or who have fallen on hard times, has become a “British symbol”. This interpretation is not actively discouraged by the Unionist community in general. It is shameful that this charitable symbol has been turned into a political football. The memories of those who sacrificed life and limb should not be treated in this way. It is gravely wrong. In the Republic, the Poppy is not worn by 99% of the people. It is seen in some way as treacherous, as supporting Britain and her soldiers who fought against us in 1919/21. This thinking is just as wrong and just as shameful.
The funds collected in the Republic of Ireland go towards the welfare of veterans of British Forces living in the Republic, most of them Irish. Irish people who fought against fascism and tyranny in Europe and elsewhere.

To Nationalists and Republicans who may not like the concept, I would ask them if are they happy that other people would claim the glory for what they’re Nationalist and Republican comrades-in-arms fought for? Are they happy that a huge part of our military heritage would be hijacked and claimed by others? Are they happy that sacrifices made for the “Freedom of Small Nations” by Nationalist and Republicans would be forgotten about and never remembered? This would be a grave injustice.

It is time to change our collective and individual thinking on this island, North and South. The Somme was not a Unionist Battle, the Great War not a Unionist War. Irishmen, Unionist and Nationalist, Catholic, Protestant and Dissenter fought and spilled their life’s blood in the Allied cause, the British cause, the Irish cause and a myriad of other causes. Whatever the cause, they fought for you and me. For your parents and your parent’s parents, your children and your children’s children. A whole generation was wiped out for us. As regards the Republic, never in the annals of human history did a nation intentionally, deliberately and maliciously write out of history a generation of soldiers that fought for them. History is indeed written by the victors, and never was a truer word was spoken. But rarely if ever have victors betrayed their own in such a manner. We ought to hang our heads in shame and beg forgiveness, not only from our soldiers, but also from their families and descendants.

HISTORY

History is what happened. We may not like some of it as it does not suit our notions of how we would have wanted it to be. But happen it did. Britain is our nearest neighbour in the biggest peace process around, the European Union. She is our biggest trading partner, our biggest contributor to our tourist industry and our biggest refuge for unemployment for generations. Her history in Ireland is a sad history, not at all covered in glory. We had our differences, we have our differences and I am sure that we in the future will have our differences but we also have shared traditions. We have shared traditions and shared military traditions on this island and in these islands.

We have to recognise how history was manipulated and how successive generations were manipulated with it. We should be proud to acknowledge the generations of soldiers that sacrificed themselves for what they believed in with the encouragement of Irish politicians. This is a tradition we share with Britain and we are all the richer for it. We are very proud of the traditions we share with other countries. Yes it means remembering our dead on Nov 11 like many other nations and yes it means sharing cenotaphs, memorials and symbols. These dead belong to us, to our people. They must be remembered. Let us as a nation, move on.


Last VC Recipient

The last Irish recipient of the VC was L/Seaman James Joseph Magennis from West Belfast.

Some details of his citation I want to read to you:

In the Johore Straits on 31 July 1945, L/Sman Magennis was a diver on the XE3 midget submarine. He experienced great difficulty as he attached limpet mines to the Atago class Japanese Cruiser. The XE3 was jammed beneath the Cruiser and the diver’s hatch could not fully open. Magennis squeezed himself through the narrow opening, and had to remove barnacles from the bottom of the Cruiser before he could attach the mines. It was tiring work as he had to attach them in pairs by passing a line under the keel. He also was handicapped by a small leak of oxygen, causing bubbles to reach the surface. He completed the job, placing all mines in position, before returning to the submarine. On withdrawing, Lt Fraser discovered that one of the limpet carriers could not be jettisoned. L/Sman Magennis, despite being exhausted, immediately volunteered to go out again and free it. It took 7 minutes of nerve-racking work, but he managed to release it. He displayed great courage and showed no regard for his own safety.

When he came home from WW2 his own community spurned him because he was a “Brit” and he was just as spurned by the Unionist community because he was a “Taidhg”! He was to “both sides” an embarrassment. He died in 1985. Just 19 years ago. Who remembers? Who ever heard of him? A monument was erected in Belfast recently to perpetuate his memory but ask anybody in the streets of the Republic if they know of him?


Times are changing however

One notable group of people on this island who has never been tarnished by a closed mind is the Military History Society of Ireland. This illustrious body of ladies and gentlemen has since its inception, devoted themselves to the study of the Irishman at war. Religion, politics etc., never have clouded their study and presentation or attitude.

Now we also have the Military Heritage Trust of Ireland whose remit it is to perpetuate the memory of the Irish soldier. This distinguished joint North / South body is making tremendous strides to redress the neglect of the past 80+ years.

Another historic landmark will be the opening of the Military Museum in Collins Bks. Dublin. This should be a magnificent contribution to our neglected Military Heritage. The designers and planners are to be complimented and the content should be excellent. However, the main objective should be to portray the life and death of our soldiers throughout the ages and how they fought and suffered in the horrors of combat. People should leave this museum feeling shocked by the horrors of war and humbled by the story of the Irish soldier.


The plans for the Boyne Battlefield, so full of promise and enormous potential must also be fully realised. The plans initiated must be brought to completion.

And of course we have a progressive company Military Heritage Tours Ltd who is passionately dedicated to the education of all in the matter of Irish military heritage and the pursuit of peace in these islands through the presentation of unbiased history.
We organise tours, lectures, and seminars for all and we represent all traditions on the island.

Education is the key. Once our history is presented warts and all, and once it is taken out of the hands of the propagandists and manipulators, then we are on the road to mutual respect and peace and away from tribalism and hatred.

We are most privileged to be present here today. Today is a most historic one and part of the beginning of a new future. Would any one of us have thought that we would be so privileged to see it?

Here we are in the beautiful West of Ireland beneath the slopes of Croagh Patrick to honour an Irish soldier long forgotten about. Here we are Irish and British, Catholic, Protestant and probably Dissenter, Irish Army and British Army and Irish soldiers of both. The Irish Minister for Defence and the British Ambassador. The gravestones of Irish history surround us. Poor Famine victims with their poor un-etched little stones. Officers and men of Irish Regiments of the British Army. A War of Independence and Irish Army General later to be killed in the Civil War, Brig Gen Joe Ring and veterans of the Second World War.

We are here not only to dedicate Sgt Maj Cornelius Coughlan VC but a new understanding, a new tolerance, a new forgiveness and a new beginning. I think Cornelius will be pleased! Our forgotten and much maligned dead, are also watching us now and are just as pleased. But they also wait!

It gives me so much pleasure to hand over to the Minister for Defence to dedicate and unveil this headstone.

Thank you.

ENDS

 
Your guided tour to Ireland's Battlefields and Military Heritage