This morning I was called by the music of two Irish pipers to the gates of Merrion Square Park. Who can resist a bagpiper?
After chatting with a lovely man (on the right in the photo below), I discovered that a ceremony was about to commence. He was a Kerry man; a volunteer in the Defence Forces.
In Canada, we celebrate Remembrance Day at the Cenataph on November 11 every year, but in Dublin they meet to remember their fallen soldiers for six Saturdays over July and August. The Sunday closest to July 11 is The National Day of Commemoration.
Today was the first ceremony and there were six Infantry Battalion, Custume Barracks from Athlone Co. Westmeath and twenty-seven Infantry Battalion, Aiken Barracks from Dundalk, Co. Louth, taking part.
The Defence Forces, Óglaigh na hÉireann, wear a badge with an ancient warrior’s sword belt and a “sunburst” of flames. The letters FF for Fianna Fáil are in the centre. The Fianna Fáil is an ancient military organization that has defended Ireland since the 3rd Century. Fáil means “destiny” and so these men are Destiny’s Army.
The sunburst is the traditional battle symbol of the Fianna, and you may remember that Fionn mac Cumhaill (Finn MacCool) led his own Fianna in the mythic Fenian cycle. Fianna Fáil is also the name of the Republican Party here in Ireland. History runs deep in this country.
I thought I’d have to stand behind the ropes, but was invited to sit on the stone bench right by the memorial. Inside this granite pyramid are four bronze figures who stand guard over the eternal flame in memory of fallen soldiers in the Defence Forces. During the ceremony, the flag was lowered to half mast and then raised again at the end. There was a changing of the Inner and Outer Guard. It was a solemn occasion, and when the wreaths were laid and the piper played, tears were shed by some, including me.
This country, with its turbulent history, never ceases to amaze me. The tricolour national flag, first flown during the 1916 Rising, symbolizes “the inclusion and hoped-for union of the people of different traditions on this island.” The green goes back to the 1640s and the orange appeared in 1795 following King William of Orange’s “glorious revolution” . The painting below is an artist’s rendering of the Battle of the Boyne where William changed history in 1689. It’s in the National Gallery, the grey building in the background in the photos above.
The white between them, I assume signifies a peace that came “dropping slowly” as WB Yeats would say; a peace that appears to be here at last.