Remember our real patriots
Irish people must use Armistice Day to commemorate its real patriotic dead, not terrorist killers.
On this day in 1918, World War One’s guns fell silent. The so-called war to end all wars cost the lives of tens of thousands of Nationalists and Unionists who fought and died side by side.
These Catholics and Protestants – not the terrorist gang who planned and planted the Poppy Day Massacre in Enniskillen in 1987 – are the genuine Irish patriots who should be remembered at 11 o’clock this morning.
That was also the agreed time on November 11th, 1918 when the Great War would be officially declared over.
I will be remembering my great uncle William Holmes, whose surname I carry as one of my middle names.
Great uncle Willie has no known grave. Each Remembrance Week, the Royal British Legion plants on the family’s behalf a small wooden cross bearing his name at Belfast City Hall.
Willie died at the Battle of Cambrai in November 1917, just under a year before the war ended.
That bloody battle on the Western Front was famed for the British using tanks for the first time in a major offensive.
Bachelor Willie had agreed to give his home leave to a married chum so that his pal could go back to Ireland to visit his wife and family.
Taking his friend’s place, Willie went ‘over the top’ as he had done on so many occasions since the outbreak of war three years earlier in 1914.
But as Willie advanced with his comrades, he was hit by a German shell and literally blown to bits. There was no body to recover and no grave for our family to visit in a well-kept, tranquil military cemetery.
For years when I lived in Clough Presbyterian Manse in Co Antrim, the only family memory of Willie was a framed portrait in the guest bedroom.
While Willie perished, another of my great uncles, Billy Coulter, survived the horrors of the trenches.
Billy went on to become one of Scotland’s leading Freemasons. When he stayed with us at the manse, he would tell me stories about the history of the masons.
Billy loved his 6 am tea, and I would sneak down to sit with him in the kitchen as he proudly showed me his collection of Masonic certificates and medals.
It was a scene straight from the Hollywood blockbuster National Treasure where hero actor Nicolas Cage recalls identical stories from a Masonic relative.
But there was one topic that was completely out of bounds for the soft spoken great uncle Billy – the Great War and the things he suffered while fighting; the machine-gun bullets, the gas attacks, the shelling, and the loss of so many friends in his regiment.
Ireland needs to remember that the bullets, shells and gas did not differentiate between Unionists and Nationalists. Many Catholics and Protestants suffered the same fate as great uncle Willie during these bloodbaths.
It is these men that are the true patriots of the Emerald Isle, not the Martin Meehan IRA types plastered on banners in Ardoyne.
Next year, Ireland will commemorate the centenary of the start of World War One. But today in Ireland, we should all remember that we have freedom because of Willie and his comrades.
Willie and Billy simply can’t be compared with the two IRA men killed by their own bomb in 1973 who were celebrated with a parade in Castlederg, Co Tyrone.
November 12, 2013________________
This article appeared in the November 11, 2013 edition of the Irish Daily Star.