This was the second time I visited the WW1 Irish Peace Park at Messines, or Mesen as it is now known in Flemish, not far from Ieper. The first occasion was to commemorate the centenary of the start of the Battle of Messines on 7th June 2017.
An Taoiseach Enda Kenny TD and Britain’s Prince William joined Princess Astrid of Belgium and Lord Dunlop, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Northern Ireland Office to honour the soldiers who fought in the battle. They laid wreaths at the foot of the Round Tower memorial, before meeting invited guests including descendants of those who fought at the Battle.
The successful Allied offensive on June 7th 1917 was the first occasion the 36th Ulster and 16th Irish divisions fought together on the front line. The two divisions predominantly comprised men who were on opposing sides of the great political upheaval back in Ireland around whether the country should be granted self-governance from Westminster.
The Peace Park is dominated by a replica Irish round tower was intended as a symbol of reconciliation to bring together loyalists and nationalists, Protestants and Catholics, particularly from a younger generation in Northern Ireland and the Republic.
It was the brainchild of the late Paddy Harte from Co. Donegal and Glen Barr, a former loyalist paramilitary leader from Derry. There is a plaque remembering their joint efforts on the wall beside the exit.
The Peace Tower is dedicated to all those from the island of Ireland who fought and died in the First World War 1914-18. It was erected by ‘a Journey of Reconciliation’ Trust, with the support of local people from Messines. On Remembrance Day 11th November 1998, eighty years after war came to an end, President McAleese unveiled a plaque in the presence of Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II and His Majesty King Albert II of Belgium.