24/03/2010

McAleese Honours British War Graves

Irish President Mary McAleese is visiting Gallipoli in Turkey to mark the deaths of thousands of Irish soldiers who fought in the British Army during the First World War.

She attended wreath-laying ceremonies in the Gallipoli region where nearly 4,000 Irish troops died in a bloody five-month campaign in 1915.

Thousands died, but tragically, many surviving soldiers from across Ireland who fought in the Turkish campaign later served at the infamous Battle of the Somme in 1916 - having first gone into action on the Gallipoli beachhead.

The Irish dead included those serving in the 10th (Irish) Division as well as many thousands in the Anzac forces from Australia and New Zealand.

Soldiers who later served in the 36th (Ulster) Division in the killing fields of France also took part in the campaign.

Mrs McAleese also laid a wreath on the main Turkish memorial, the Monument of Martyrs, before attending a commemoration at Green Hill Cemetery in memory of the British soldiers who lost their lives and are buried in the area.

Speaking at the site, Mary McAleese said those who fought in the British Army overseas were diminished in the national consciousness as back at home, the War of Independence against the British Empire had begun in their absence.

Her official visit began with Mrs McAleese travelling to the capital, Ankara, to meet President Abdullah Gul and later Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

She will also lay a wreath on the tomb of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

Later, she will meet Mehmet Ali Sahin, Speaker of the Turkish Parliament, and attend a reception for the Irish community hosted by the Irish ambassador.
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President Mary McAleese has also just reaffirmed Ireland's strong backing for Turkey's accession to EU membership - despite continued division over the Turkish occupation of the northern part of Cyprus.

Today's event is the first official recognition by the Irish Republic of the nearly Irish soldiers who died while serving in the British Army during the campaign.

She also visited a Turkish memorial and also see where many Irishmen died on the V-Beach and on Helles beach - that today has an Army barracks named after it in Catterick, north Yorkshire.

The heroic troops died over six months in 1915 in a failed attempt by the Allies to secure the approaches to the Black Sea.

Groups such as the Dublin Fusiliers and Somme Associations have praised President McAleese, who has made the issue of recognising those who died under arms in British military service a centrepiece of her two terms.

The last ten years has been marked by a cross-border commemoration of Irish soldiers who fought in the British forces in WWI, run during November in Drogheda, Co Louth and involving Whiteabbey Royal British Legion and local ex servicemen from the equivalent organisation, ONE.

Although attended and organised by the local mayor, no official Dublin involvement has so far been considered appropriate.

Ironically too, TA soldiers from Northern Ireland's own 40 (Ulster) Signals Regiment are about to be deployed to Cyprus soon to 'police' the Turkish/Greek border in Cyprus.

See: Poppy Day' Remembrance For Drogheda

See: Clonaver Troops Guard Pope In Cyprus

(BMcC/GK)

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