PRINCE CHARLES HOPES TO MAKE ANOTHER VISIT TO IRELAND
President and Minister Humphreys Participate in Battle of Somme Centenary
Michael Fisher NORTHERN STANDARD Thursday 7th July 2016 p.1
Britain’s Prince Charles has told Minister Heather Humphreys during an informal meeting at the Somme Centenary in France he would be happy to return to Ireland on another visit. The Minister who chairs the consultation group on commemorations said the Prince of Wales told her he had been very impressed with Glenveagh National Park in County Donegal.
Six weeks ago Minister Humphreys welcomed Prince Charles and his wife Camilla Duchess of Cornwall to Glenveagh. The Minister described it as one of the jewels of Ireland’s natural heritage. It is one of six national parks in Ireland and is run by the National Parks and Wildlife Service, which comes under the brief of Minister Humphreys.
The Cavan/Monaghan TD accompanied President Higgins at the Thiepval Memorial last Friday for a service marking the start of the Battle of the Somme on July 1st 1916. The Minister said it was very important that the Irish Defence Forces led by Chief of Staff Vice Admiral Mark Mellett had been included in the ceremony along with British and Commonwealth servicemen and women.
Following the poignant service attended by 10,000 guests Minister Humphreys represented the government at a wreath-laying ceremony at the nearby Ulster Tower. It is beside Thiepval Wood where soldiers from the 36th Ulster Division including some Monaghan men left the trenches at 7.30am on July 1st 1916 to advance towards the German lines. She laid a wreath along with the North’s First Minister Arlene Foster MLA and the Northern Secretary Theresa Villiers MP.
The previous day Heather Humphreys paid tribute to the 16th Irish Division who had entered the battle two months later at Guillemont and also sustained heavy losses. The Minister attended a special performance in Amiens by the Abbey Theatre of the play “Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme”.
On Saturday, the Minister will attend the main state event to commemorate the Somme Centenary, which is being held in conjunction with the Royal British Legion. It will take place in the Irish National War Memorial Gardens at Islandbridge in Dublin at 12 noon and will be televised live by RTÉ.
Invited guests will include members of the government, Council of State, elected representatives, members of the diplomatic corps and judiciary, and representatives of a large number of veterans’ organisations. It will involve a wreath-laying by the President Higgins. Ambassadors of the countries that fought at the Somme and the Presidents of the Royal British Legion from the Republic and Northern Ireland will also lay wreaths.
Speaking to the Northern Standard on her return from France, Minister Humphreys said the services in Thiepval had been very moving. She said the representation of the Irish government and Defence Forces at the Ulster Tower had been very much appreciated. She met representatives of the Orange Order there, building on contacts developed when she attended the visit by Prince Charles in May to a new Museum of Orange Heritage at Loughgall, Co. Armagh, which had been part-funded by the Irish government.
The Minister said she had wanted the programme of events for the centenary commemorations to be inclusive and respectful and it had been. It had opened up our understanding of events in 1916. It was not about one narrative, but concerned all the narratives and it was important to hear all the personal accounts from that era. People like 18 year-old Katie McGrane from Magheracloone, who in a letter to her mother dated May 2nd, 1916 had described the streets of Dublin city centre in the aftermath of the Easter Rising.
We had matured as a nation in our ability to accept and hear about the events and stories of one hundred years ago, the Minister said. We had reconnected with our history and there was now a great sense of pride, she said. She felt there had been great community engagement for the commemorative programme, including in County Monaghan. This included the distribution of the national flag to national schools with talks on civic duty and citizenship.
She believed it was important to keep the momentum going. She complimented the great work done for the 1916 Centenary by Monaghan County Council, the County Museum, the library service as well as local arts and heritage groups.
MOORE STREET SITE
Minister Humphreys also responded to criticism she was failing to protect buildings at Moore Street in Dublin city centre connected with the Easter Rising. Last month the government decided to bring an appeal to the Supreme Court over a High Court ruling which declared Moore Street to be a 1916 “battlefield site” and was therefore due to be protected. Earlier this year, a court action had been successfully taken by the 1916 Relatives Group which sought to prevent the destruction of buildings on the street.
Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams TD condemned the decision by the government to appeal the High Court judgement. He said it was scandalous that in the centenary year of the Rising the government would refuse to uphold a court judgement that would protect Moore Street and its environs that were part of the legacy of 1916. Instead of defending and protecting the historical legacy of the Rising the government was putting the rights of developers and profiteers first, Mr Adams claimed.
Minister Humphreys said she was the first Minister to do anything about purchasing the site at 14-17 Moore Street last year. They had then embarked on a programme of conservation for the four buildings, to show what they were like in 1916 with the holes between the houses used by the rebels to move from one room to another. This site was where the Rising’s leaders held their last council of war and decided to surrender.
The Minister argued that other buildings on the street had been constructed after 1916 and were not historically significant. The vast bulk of the surrounding properties were privately owned. Her remit extended to the National Monument, which was being preserved. These houses retained significant 18th-century elements, including staircases, partitions, plasterwork, doors, floors, fittings and fixtures. The development of the wider street was a matter for Dublin City Council, she said.
However in his High Court judgment, Mr Justice Max Barrett said the wealth of evidence before the court pointed to historical significance in some of the other buildings. These included number 10, a portion of the parting wall at number 13 and number 18, as well as the building at 20-21 Moore Street.
Minister Humphreys said owing to the potential widespread implications of the “battlefield” judgement for planning and development nationally, the government had decided to appeal the decision. If the whole street was a national monument, then how would this translate to other historical sites, she asked. She said she fully understood that Moore Street was a location that held great importance for many people.
The Minister said she intended to establish a consultative group on Moore Street with an independent Chair as a means to make positive progress in relation to the future of the street. The group would include cross-party Oireachtas members and other relevant stakeholders including the 1916 relatives. She hoped they would sit down and see how they could progress the situation and make sure the four precious buildings were restored.
The completed project would be a permanent legacy to the leaders of 1916. She hoped the group could chart a way forward. The government was committed to looking after the four buildings with their original fabric, she said.