Thank you for your ‘Somme Burnout’. A very well constructed article but I am somewhat unclear as to the main thrust of your argument. But first a few points. I assume one element of your argument is that there is too much emphasis now on this battle. You outline the significance, context and relevance to us very well but describe it as abnormal. What about a comparative aspect to this? What of other celebrations? And I take you point about banality on board. Having stood in many graveyards in the Somme area I despair at the efforts to make money from trinkets when one considers what those ordinary men endured and suffered.
In terms of recalling or celebrating battles we need go no further than that oldest of feuding neighbours England and Scotland. But first an internal English contest in 1461. Towton does not jog the memory like other battles but it had a huge impact on England and its history. It was the final slaughtering match in the War of the Roses. Recently a newspaper lamented the wilful forgetting of the battle but you can goggle the Towton Battlefield Society who are now actively bringing this battle back into public consciousness.
The list of English-Scottish battles is well documented. I have stood on Culloden(1746), walked Bannockburn(1314) and crossed Stirling Bridge where the Scottish defeated the English in 1297. While in Scotland I was not surprised to hear both talk and song recalling these battles. Granted, no big street demos and parades but remembered after hundreds of years. If something is burned into the memory and it means something then it will be remembered. It cannot be undone in the years to come. It is a fact.
On the international stage we have the Americans recalling Gettysburg (1863) the turning point of their civil war. They love to have their actual re-enactments. Is that trivialising the slaughter? The Russians have celebrated the 300th anniversary of the Battle of Poltava in 2009 with T.V. shows, reports, conferences, etc. September the 8th is a national holiday in Malta relating to the victory over the Ottoman Turks in 1565. Perhaps the 1st July as a public holiday here?
The Mexicans celebrate with style, colour and noise the Battle of Puebla over 150 years ago. On May 5th 1862 the Mexicans defeated a much superior French force. The French proved much stronger as the war went on but this victory was seen as a morale booster in the Mexicans fight for survival. Simply Google ‘Cinco de Mayo’, and then look at images and get ready for a riot of colour. It makes the Orange day look positively drab.
The remembrance of an important battle is not some quaint ‘Proddie’ thing and I would argue that it is most definitely not an Irish phenomenon.
I do agree one hundred per cent that education is vital around the whole idea of history and celebration. I use the 36th Ulster Division to tell anyone who will listen about the 10th and 16th Irish Divisions. And I hold with respect all those Irishmen who went and fought against a common foe. I respect and visit the monuments and graveyards in France and Belgium that holds those soldiers. Maybe both sides of the community could do more to recall them with pride?
You say about how the Great War has slipped from living memory. Surely your article contradicts that with a picture of a uniformed band marching down from the Albertbridge Road nearly 100 years on? And as a young boy I was fascinated meeting my great uncles when they came to talk to my granny. Their brother, my great uncle, lies buried in France at the Somme having died there in 1916. That event, their brother, their loss, was a real thing in the family. It is with pride and dignity that they recalled him and their precious memories. I have stood at his grave a number of times and hope to do so in the future.
Yes, there will be a high level of interest in 2016. Yes, human nature is that it will wane over the following years. However human nature also is that, with the will, memories of past failures and victories will carry on for as long as people want. Who knows the social, cultural, and political changes over 2 centuries? Maybe someday the Somme battle remembrance will supplant the Boyne celebration?