Cambell College CCF Pipe Band from Belfast laid a wreath at the Ulster Tower

Our visit to the Ulster Memorial Tower at Thiepval came just after a group from Campbell College in Belfast. We met the CCF Pipe Band as they were tuning up at the nearby Thiepval Memorial and we were just leaving, but it was nice to hear them playing.

Ulster Tower at Thiepval

The Campbell College group laid their wreath at the same time as a group from the Orange Order in Scotland, who we met the following evening at the Menin Gate Last Post ceremony in Ieper.

Union Flag flies at the Ulster Tower built in memory of the 36th Ulster Division

View from the Ulster Tower towards the Thiepval Memorial

Unfortunately we were a day too early for the Campbell College pipe band’s performance at the Last Post ceremony. We also missed them at Tyne Cot cemetery where some of their pipers paid tribute to the Royal Irish Fusiliers whose names are inscribed on the huge memorial as their bodies were never identified and they have no known graves.

Campbell College CCF Pipe Band from Belfast tuning up at Thiepval

The name on the bottom right of this panel is Private Hugh Dalzell of the 9th Battalion Royal Irish Fusiliers. Two years ago during the Passchendaele 100 commemoration I stood at this spot and read out his name as part of the live television broadcast by the BBC. We will remember them.

Campbell College at the Royal Irish Fusiliers memorial panel 140 at Tyne Cot cemetery

It was interesting to see a plaque the following day at St George’s Anglican Church in Ieper that commemorates all the past pupils of Campbell College who died in WWI and who the pipe band were remembering on their visit, organised by Anglia Tours.

We met some of the Campbell College group again on our fourth day when we went to Tyne Cot. They were visiting Poperinge where the Toc-H house founded by Reverend Talbot is situated. (There will be a separate story on that later).

The visit by the pipe band with some of their pictures (which they have kindly given me permission to use) featured in the News Letter. There is also an interesting website with the stories of the Old Campbellians and their part in WWI. They include a former Irish rugby international, Captain Alfred Taylor from Windsor Avenue North, off the Malone Road in South Belfast.

Their photos and stories have been turned into an exhibition ‘The Men Behind the Glass” currently on display in the PRONI, Belfast.


Ulster Tower, Thiepval

The Ulster Tower at Thiepval is modelled on Helen’s tower overlooking Newtownards, Co. Down, on the Clandeboye estate where the 9th Battalion Royal Irish Fusiliers (mainly men from Armagh, Monaghan and Cavan) and other units trained in 1914/15.

Plaque at entrance to the Ulster Tower

The Tower commemorates the men of the 36th Ulster Division and all those from the nine counties of Ulster who served in the First World War. The memorial was officially opened on 19th November 1921. At the entrance to the Tower is a plaque commemorating the names of the nine men of the Division who won the Victoria Cross during the Somme.

Remembering the members of the 36th Ulster Division decorated for their bravery at the Somme

There is also a memorial here commemorating the part played by members of the Orange Order during the battle. The inscription on this memorial reads: “This Memorial is Dedicated to the Men and Women of the Orange Institution Worldwide, who at the call of King and country, left all that was dear to them, endured hardness, faced danger, and finally passed out of the sight of man by the path of duty and self sacrifice, giving up their own lives that others might live in Freedom. Let those who come after see to it that their names be not forgotten.”

Orange Order memorial behind the Ulster Tower

Explanatory plaque for the Orange Order memorial


Lt TJ Kennedy of the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers

Lt Thomas James Kennedy was Editor of The Northern Standard newspaper in Monaghan when he enlisted in the British Army. He was killed in action in France on 9th September 1916.

He was the eldest son of Samuel and Mary Kennedy, Terressan, Moneyhaw, County Derry near Cookstown, and brother of Mr. Joseph A. Kennedy, journalist, Lisburn.


Placing a cross in memory of Lt Kennedy at Thiepval Memorial July 24th 2019

For five years previous to the outbreak of war Mr Kennedy was Managing Editor of the newspaper, The Northern Standard, in Monaghan. He was described as “a journalist of much ability”. In March 1915, he joined the 16th Battalion, Royal Irish Rifles. Shortly afterwards was given a commission in the 12th Battalion, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers. He had served during the Easter Rising in Dublin and a month later on May 25th 1916, he was sent to France.

Lieutenant Kennedy was attached to the 8th Battalion, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers at the Somme where he was killed in action on 9th September 1916.

Panel 4D on Thiepval Memorial with name of TJ Kennedy

His unit was part of the 16th Irish Division, composed mainly of former members of the National Volunteers, who played an important part in capturing the towns of Guillemont and Ginchy, although they suffered massive casualties. During these successful actions between 1st and 10th September, casualties amounted to 224 officers and 4,090 men.

The Irish conquest of Ginchy turned out to be one of the few victories the Allies could claim in the terrible year of 1916. It gave them control of a series of vital observation posts overlooking much of the Somme region that would prove to be a game-changer in the inch-by-inch battle for the Western Front.


Thiepval Memorial

Lieutenant Tom Kettle was among the casualties recorded by the 16th Irish Division and he was commemorated in Dublin last week. His name and that of Lieutenant Kennedy would later be carved upon the Thiepval Monument to the Missing of the Somme along with 72,194 others whose remains were never identified.

Panel 4D on Thiepval Memorial

They include the names of Monaghan men from the 9thBattalion Royal Irish Fusiliers, part of the 36thUlster Division who were killed on the first day of the Battle of the Somme on July 1st1916 (see Northern Standard July 14th2016). When I visited the memorial in July 2016 for the Somme centenary commemoration I had not realised that all these names were on the memorial, especially that of a former journalist from the Northern Standard. So on this latest visit in July 2019 I checked the relevant panel with the help of an intern from the CWGC who told me she came from Belfast and that a relative had served in the same Battalion as Lt Kennedy.

Cross left by me at Thiepval Memorial remembering Lt TJ Kennedy

Thomas James Kennedy was born in County Tyrone about 1881. The 1901 census lists him as age 20 living with the family at house 4 in Terressan, Moneyhaw, near Cookstown. Thomas was working as a printer; his father was a farmer. Before the war he had served his apprenticeship in the offices of the Mid Ulster Mail as a reporter, and was well known in journalistic circles in Dungannon, Derry, Dublin and Dundalk.


From the Belfast Newsletter dated 10th March 1915:

A Journalist’s Commission. Compliment to Mr T J Kennedy, Monaghan. A deputation, representing the journalists of county Monaghan, waited on Mr. Thomas J Kennedy yesterday at the headquarters of the Ulster Division Cadet Corps at Brownlow House, Lurgan, and made him the recipient of a presentation on the occasion of his departure from Monaghan. Mr Kennedy, who has occupied the position of managing editor of the Northern Standard, Monaghan, for a period of five years is extremely popular in that town, and particularly so amongst his colleagues in journalism.

He is a member of the Ulster District of the Institute of Journalists, and is well-known in newspaper circles in Ireland. He has joined the Cadet Corps at Lurgan prior to taking up a commission in the Royal Irish Rifles. The presentation, which took the form of a handsome gold wristlet watch, with luminous dial, was made by Mr Samuel Bothwell, who succeeds Mr Kennedy in the position of managing editor. He paid an eloquent tribute to the many good qualities of Mr Kennedy as a journalist and gentleman , and wished him every success in his military career.

He also conveyed to him the sincere good wishes of Mr William Swan, the proprietor of the Northern Standard. Mr J J Turley spoke of his association with Mr Kennedy in Monaghan and of the kindly, cordial, and genial relationship that always existed between them. He regretted the temporary departure of such a warm personal friend, and trusted that Mr Kennedy would return decorated with high military honours.

Mr Kennedy, having suitably replied, the proceedings terminated.


During the Easter Rising in April 1916 he was recommended for promotion for services in the field. While attached to the 12th Inniskillings he was deployed to the Pro-Cathedral in Dublin, where he signalled to have the iron gates and doors open, and arranged to have his men cross under heavy fire without loss. It was through his courtesy afterwards that arrangements were made for a fifteen minute ceasefire so as to enable Mr. Richard Bowden, Administrator at the Cathedral, to procure provisions for a large number of refugees who were compelled to take refuge with the men in the building.


Mid Ulster Mail Saturday 15thJanuary 1916

Second Lieutenant T J Kennedy, 12th (Reserve) Battalion Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, has been promoted Lieutenant. He is a son of Samuel Kennedy, Tyressan, Cooktown, and well known in journalistic circles, commencing his career in the staff of the Mid Ulster Mail.


Mid Ulster Mail Saturday 20thMay 1916

Local Soldiers (furlough)

During the last ten days, quite a number of soldiers have been home on furlough. Mr T J Kennedy (son of Mr Samuel Kennedy), formerly of the Mid Ulster Mail staff, who is a lieutenant of the Inniskillings and did valuable work in quelling the Sinn Fein rebellion.


Mid Ulster Mail Saturday 12thAugust 1916

Mr Samuel Kennedy, Tyresson, Cookstown, has received a telegram from the War Office that his son, Lieutenant T J Kennedy, has been wounded. Lieutenant Kennedy was a well-known journalist. He served his apprenticeship with the Mid Ulster Mail and prior to receiving his commission about eighteen months ago he was editor of the Northern Standard, Monaghan. Prior to going to France, he was on duty in Dublin during the Rebellion. He has written since that his wound was on his hand and that he hopes to be on duty again soon.

Lieutenant Kennedy was attached to the 8th Inniskillings at the Somme where he was killed in action on 9th September 1916.



Side section of Thiepval Memorial

Mid Ulster Mail Saturday 16thSeptember 1916

LATE NEWS Lt TJ Kennedy Killed

A telegram from the War Office was received on Friday afternoon informing Mr Samuel Kennedy, Tyresson, Cookstown, that his eldest son, Lieutenant Kennedy, of the Inniskillings, was killed in action in France on 9th September. He served his apprenticeship in the Mid Ulster Mail, and was well known in journalistic circles in Londonderry, Belfast, Dublin, Dundalk and Monaghan, and was the editor of the Northern Standard in the latter town when war was declared. He had been on the South Irish Horse, and volunteered for service, and was given a commission in the Ulster Division, being later transferred to the 16th Division. He was engaged during the Sinn Fein Rebellion with his battalion in Dublin, and his efforts were warmly commended by the administrator of the Pro-Cathedral, where he was stationed during most of Easter Week, and it was understood he was recommended for promotion.


Tyrone Courier 21stSeptember 1916

Intimation has been received by Mr Samuel Kennedy, Tyresson, Cookstown, that his son, Lieutenant Thomas J Kennedy, Inniskilling Fusiliers, was killed in action on 9th September. Lieutenant Kennedy was a well known Ulster journalist, and for a time acted as a reporter for the Tyrone Courier, and proper to receiving his commission was editor of the Northern Standard, Monaghan. Before going to the front, he took part in the quelling of disturbances in Dublin. He was wounded on the 4th August last, but the injury, which was to the hand, was of a slight nature, and he was able to resume his duties in a short time.


Mid Ulster Mail Saturday 23rdSeptember 1916

(Death Notice)

KENNEDY – Killed in action on 9th September 1916. Lieutenant T J Kennedy, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, Ulster Division (attached to the Irish Brigade), eldest son of Samuel and Mary Kennedy, Tyresson, Cookstown. Deeply regretted by father, mother sisters and brothers.


Mid Ulster Mail Saturday 23rdSeptember 1916

Lt TJ Kennedy

A telegram from the War Office was received on Friday afternoon informing Mr Samuel Kennedy, Tyresson, Cookstown, that his eldest son, Lieutenant Kennedy, of the Inniskillings, was killed in action in France on 9th September. He served his apprenticeship in the Mid Ulster Mail, and was well known in journalistic circles in Londonderry, Belfast, Dublin, Dundalk and Monaghan, and was the editor of the Northern Standard in the latter town when war was declared. He had been on the South Irish Horse, and volunteered for service, and was given a commission in the Ulster Division, being later transferred to the 16th Division. He was engaged during the Sinn Fein Rebellion with his battalion in Dublin, and his efforts were warmly commended by the administrator of the Pro-Cathedral, where he was stationed during most of Easter Week, and it was understood he was recommended for promotion. The following letter was received from the Rev. Richard Bowden, B.A., Administrator of the Pro-Cathedral, dated 14th May 1916, and addressed to Sir John Maxwell K.C.B. (a copy of which is treasured by Lieutenant Kennedy’s parents), testified to the way he performed his duties. It runs:-

‘Sir. After the telephone message to the military to occupy the Pro-Cathedral, I deem it my duty to state to you my great appreciation of the efficiency and courtesy with which the occupation was carried out by the 12th Inniskillings. I wish to mention specially Mr Kennedy (Lieut), who signalled to have the iron gates and doors opened, and arranged for his men to cross under fire without loss, and through whose courtesy afterwards, arrangements were made to cease fire for fifteen minutes so as to enable me to procure provisions for the large number of refugees who were compelled by the fire to take refuge with us. Richard Bowden, Administrator, Pro Cathedral, (Dublin).’

The following information is from the Catholic Archdiocese of Dublin website:- Dublin Diocesan Archivist Noelle Dowling and Darren Maher have studied the accounts of those priests who ministered on the streets of the burning city in Easter 1916. Twenty priests, including a curate who would go on to become Archbishop of Dublin, were involved in ministering to those caught up in the events on both sides of the divide one hundred years ago.

Among the historic 1916 documents in the Diocesan Archives is an account of how over forty people sought refuge in the Pro-Cathedral when fighting broke out in the city centre. All around the Cathedral buildings were ablaze – the group were forced to stay inside the “Pro” for three days. Meanwhile, the priests of the Cathedral continued to come and go from the building to be with the wounded and dying. One Cathedral curate ran from the Pro to Wynne’s Hotel through streets raked with gunfire from all sides to attend to a wounded man who was badly injured.

Jervis Street Hospital quickly filled with the wounded and it was the busiest hospital in the city centre during the week of the Rising. A priest was in attendance at all times to cater for the many religious needs of the wounded and dying. The Very Rev. Fr. Richard Bowden, Administrator of the Pro Cathedral, ensured that clergy were always available. He stayed there constantly through Monday, Tuesday and left on Wednesday morning when curates, Fr. Edward Byrne (who would later become Archbishop of Dublin) and Fr. Joseph Mc Ardle took over.


Mid Ulster Mail Saturday 23rdSeptember 1916

Major A J Walkey, of the 8th Inniskillings wrote:-

‘I regret having to inform you that your son was killed while leading his men during an attack on the 9th September. I have gathered that he was going down a trench with his bombers, when they met a party of Germans, who put up a fight, one of them throwing a bomb which killed your son. I am glad to say that afterwards some of his men got him away and buried him in decency. Please accept my sincerest sympathies in your bereavement.’


Mid Ulster Mail Saturday 23rdSeptember 1916

Colonel Sir John Leslie Bart, of Glasslough, County Monaghan, commanding the 12th (R.) B., R. I. Fusiliers, (whose son Captain Norman Leslie was killed in France in 1914) writes to Mr Samuel Kennedy as follows:- ‘I cannot say how much I feel for you and your family in the loss you have sustained in the death of your gallant son. In this battalion, he was beloved by both officers and men, and none of us are more grieved by his loss than I am myself. I had always a very strong liking for him ever since the evening he offered me his services at Monaghan, where his talents as a journalist were fully recognised. No one helped me more than he did in forming the Battalion, where he was so quick to learn and impart the knowledge he had acquired. He accompanied me often on the recruiting platform, and none could speak better.’


Mid Ulster Mail Saturday 23rdSeptember 1916

Lieutenant Colonel J C Ker Fox, second in command of the 12th Inniskillings, writes from Finner Camp:- ‘I believer Sir John Leslie is writing to you on behalf of the battalion and himself to sympathise with you in your great loss. I myself have been away on duty for the last five days, and only returned on Saturday night, hoping that the news might not be correct, and was sorry to have it confirmed yesterday. I wish to tell you how much I personally regret the death of your gallant son. Although I am considerably more than twice his age, I had taken a great liking to him, and had seen a great deal of him, on and off duty. He was a brilliant young officer and if he had lived would, I am sure, have distinguished himself. He was very popular with all his brother officers, and deservedly so, for he was a kind hearted, good natured and cheery young fellow, whom we could ill spare. I wish I had words at my command to express my feelings better, but I bitterly regret his death, and feel most deeply and sincerely for his family and for you’.


Mid Ulster Mail Saturday 23rdSeptember 1916

Rev P.D. McCaul of St Eunan’s College, Letterkenny, writes as follows to Mr S Kennedy:-You have my deepest sympathy in your great sorrow caused by the death of your son. During the week of the Rebellion I met him a good deal, and I must say that Lieutenant Kennedy was a general favourite with all the people staying in the Hamman Hotel. He was more than kind to myself, personally. He was affable, gentlemanly, fearless, and good humoured. I am deeply touched by his death. The loss of such a noble son is a crushing blow. His parents and other members of the family have my deepest sympathy. May God comfort you in your sorrow is the earnest prayer of one who greatly admired your darling son.”


Mid Ulster Mail Saturday 23rdSeptember 1916

The following telegram has been received by Mr Kennedy:- ‘The King and Queen deeply regret the loss you and the Army have sustained by the death of your son in the service of his country. Their Majesties truly sympathise with you in your sorrow. Keeper of the Privy Purse’.


Tyrone Courier 1stFebruary 1917

The late Lieutenant T J Kennedy, a native of Cookstown, and formerly a member of Cookstown, and formerly a member of the Tyrone Courier reporting staff, and Lieut W E Wylie, the well known K.C. and member of the North West Circuit, are among those ‘mentioned’ for their services in Dublin during the rebellion.

In a letter to his father Major A.J. Walkey of the 8th Inniskillings wrote:

“I regret to inform you that your son was killed while leading his men during an attack on the 9th September. I have gathered that he was going down a trench with his bombers, when they met a party of Germans, who put up a fight, one of them throwing a bomb which killed your son. I am glad to say that afterwards some of his men got him away and buried him in decency.”

NORTHERN STANDARD Saturday 16thSeptember 1916


With extreme regret we announce the death in action of Lieutenant Thomas J. Kennedy, of the 8thBattalion, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers. The sad news was conveyed to this office late this afternoon in a telegram from the deceased officer’s bereaved father, who resides at Cookstown, his gallant son having fallen on the 8thinst.

Lieutenant Kennedy was for nearly five years managing editor of the “Northern Standard”. In March 1915 he gave up his position to join the Cadet Corps of the 16thBattalion Royal Irish Rifles (Pioneers), shortly afterwards gaining a Commission. He was posted to the 12thInniskillings, and after a period of training with his battalion was sent to France a few months ago, since when he was transferred to the 8thInniskillings. He was slightly wounded on August 4th, but was able to take up duty again after a short period.

During his lengthened stay in Monaghan the late Lieut. Kennedy made hosts of friends by reason of his genial , friendly disposition, and his popularity with the public was enhanced by the patriotic response which he gave to the call of Duty. He took an active part in connection with the Monaghan Battalion of the U.V.F. prior to the war, his valuable services to the cause of Unionism both in this and other directions being highly appreciated. In athletic circles in Monaghan and elsewhere he was a prime favourite, and amongst all classes the greatest sympathy will be felt with the bereaved relatives in the loss they have sustained. He has made the supreme sacrifice in defence of the Empire, and we deeply deplore his death.

NORTHERN STANDARD Saturday 23rdSeptember 1916



Sympathetic reference was made at Monaghan Board of Guardians on Monday to the death in action of Lieut. T.J. Kennedy. Mr. Jas. Loughead said it was with feelings of deepest regret he proposed a resolution of sympathy with the relatives of the late Lieut. T.J. Kennedy, “Northern Standard”. He was a gentleman who from time to time came amongst them as a member of the Press, one for whom every one of them had a warm corner in their hearts. He was one of nature’s gentlemen, who never drew a dividing line between members of that board, but was at all times considerate and courteous to all. He fought nobly for his country and fell like a hero on the plains of France. He proposed the adoption of the following resolution:-

“That we, the members of Monaghan Board of Guardians, have heard with deep regret of the death in action in France of Lieut. T.J. Kennedy, late managing editor of the ‘Northern Standard’. For many years he attended the meetings of this Board in his journalistic capacity, and at all times the members found him most courteous in his endeavor to further the interests of the Board of Guardians and of the ratepayers they represented. We desire to express our sincere sympathy on his death”.

Mr. Hugh O’Brien seconded. The late Lieut. Kennedy, he said, was a gentleman he knew personally for many years. He could not add anything to what Mr. Loughead had said regarding the deceased gentleman.

Mr. Jas. M’Quaid, J.P. — I desire to be associated with the feeling expression contained in the resolution. I had the pleasure of knowing Mr. Kennedy for many years. I bear out what was said about him as to his courtesy and efficiency as a journalist.

Mr. T.W. Hanna, J.P. — It is unnecessary for me to say anything. I wish to be associated with the resolution.

Several other members desired to be associated with the resolution.

The Chairman in putting the resolution to the meeting said he was sure they all symapthised with Lieut. Kennedy’s relatives on his sad death. As Mr. Loughead embodied in his resolution, he fell like a man fighting for his country. They all knew Lieut. Kennedy. He was a fine journalist and all regretted to learn of his death in a foreign country. He was sure his relatives had the sympathy of all the boards he attended.

The resolution was passed unanimously, all the members standing, and a copy was ordered to be sent to the relatives of the deceased officer.

Commemorating the former Editor of The Northern Standard, Lt TJ Kennedy

Thomas J. Kennedy was buried at the time of his death but his grave could not be found later by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. He is therefore commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing of the Somme. He is also commemorated on the Cenotaph in Cooktown and Molesworth Presbyterian Roll of Honour, Cookstown.

The reports in the Northern Standard at the time of the First World War show how the paper under the proprietorship of William Swan was a pro-unionist publication. It carried weekly reports of the war effort including details of local men who had died fighting for the British Army. The “Dublin rebellion” or Easter Rising featured only briefly in the columns of the paper in May 1916. Much of the information on Lt Kennedy has been taken from the records of as well as the files of The Northern Standard.

This article appeared in The Northern Standard on 15th September 2016 on the centenary of his death.


When you arrive at the CWGC memorial at Thiepval, there is a visitor centre you can enter. There is a museum with WWI artefacts, including a full scale replica of a Nieuport 17 ‘Vieux Charles V’ biplane piloted by Georges Guynemer, a famous French flying ace. He was reported as missing in action in 1917, after more than fifty successful combat missions against the Germans.

Replica of the WWI plane flown by Georges Guynemer

There are examples of ordnance including shells and weapons such as a Vickers machine gun. A helmet with the red hand symbol of the 36th Ulster Division can be seen in one of the exhibition cases.

Helmets including one from 36th Ulster Division

The visitor centre, built in 2004, also incorporates the Thiepval Museum. The museum opened in June 2016 to mark the centenary of the 1916 Battle of the Somme. The visitor centre and museum are located a short distance from the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing of the Somme and the Thiepval Anglo-French Cemetery. The idea for a visitor centre museum was first discussed at the annual ceremony of Remembrance on 1st July 1998. Sir Frank Sanderson led a small group in the campaign to build this educational centre. The Anglo-French project was brought to fruition with the help of generous donations to meet the British fundraising target of £660,000.

The visitor centre has been imaginatively constructed at ground level so that it does not impact as an obtrusive building on the local area around the Thiepval Memorial. It welcomes many thousands of visitors to the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing each year. At the centre the memorial is put in the context of the battlefield. Display panels in three languages — English, French and German — provide an overview of the course of the Great War from 1914-1918. Display panels focus on the events during the Battle of the Somme in 1916 which occurred at the small village of Thiepval and its surroundings.

Vickers machine gun

In British service, the Vickers gun fired the standard .303 inch cartridges used in the Lee Enfield rifle, which generally had to be hand-loaded into the cloth ammunition belts. There was also a 0.5 in calibre version used as an anti-aircraft weapon and various other calibres produced for foreign buyers. The gun was 3 feet 8 inches (112 cm) long and its cyclic rate of fire was between 450 and 600 rounds per minute. In practice, it was expected that 10,000 rounds would be fired per hour, and that the barrel would be changed every hour—a two-minute job for a trained team.

Vickers machine gun

Three films, each lasting approximately 10 minutes, have been specially compiled covering the subjects of Thiepval, The Battle of the Somme and Memory. The museum provides information, maps, photographs and audivisual experiences to help visitors understand the battles that took place in the Department of the Somme.

WWI shells at Thiepval museum



Ulster Tower, Thiepval  Pic. IRFU Charitable Trust


 Michael Fisher in Thiepval  Northern Standard  Thursday 7th July 2016


Northern Standard, Thursday 7th July 2016

As she laid a wreath at the Ulster Tower in France last week, Minister Heather Humphreys stepped back and reflected on the carnage that had taken place on the battlefields of the Somme exactly one hundred years ago. She thought of the young men, including those from Ulster and other parts of Ireland, who had joined the British Army and had gone out to fight for their country and what they believed in. Some had written home to their mothers days before the offensive began and would die in the conflict.

The memorial which is similar to Helen’s Tower at Clandeboye, Co. Down, 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. Heather Humphreys laid a wreath along with the North’s First Minister Arlene Foster MLA, the Northern Secretary Theresa Villiers MP and Britain’s Prince Charles.


NI Secretary of State Theresa Villiers M.P. at the Thiepval Memorial commemoration #Somme16

The service included representatives of the four main churches in Ireland. For the first 6time, the Catholic Archbishop of Armagh, Dr Eamon Martin, was present at Thiepval along with his Church of Ireland counterpart, Archbishop Richard Clarke. The Presbyterian Moderator Dr Frank Sellar and the Methodist President Reverend Bill Mullally joined them.

They jointly called for Christians of all traditions in Ireland to pray for peace in these challenging times.  The Church leaders said: “Let us put our faith into action: love our neighbours, reach out to the stranger, care for the vulnerable, build community and be agents for peace, forgiveness and reconciliation.”

Addressing the service Archbishop Clarke referred to how the Somme and Ulster had belonged together in the imagination of succeeding generations over the last century. He noted that the Somme represented “a connectedness for all time with many men and women, and not only in Ulster nor only for one Christian tradition.”

He also recalled the recent pilgrimage to the Somme last month which he jointly led alongside Archbishop Martin, and which included a cross-community group of young people from across the island of Ireland. Archbishop Clarke encouraged the present generation to relate the sacrifice of the Somme to its hopes, prayers and aspirations for the future. “We must believe in a hope of the future for our young people, as they must believe in it for themselves”, he said.

The Presbyterian Moderator, Dr Frank Sellar, spoke afterwards of how for many families like his own, the Battle of the Somme was still personal. He said the Great War had changed the course of human history and a century later the world is still living with the consequences of its aftermath. The Somme, as a particularly poignant part of that conflict, changed the lives of countless thousands and indelibly shaped whole communities in Ulster and throughout the island of Ireland. It was a time of terrible carnage and incredible heroism, he added.

“For us today, 100 years on, it is difficult to imagine, or even contemplate, the shear scale of the loss of life and the impact that it had then. My grandfather lost two of his brothers on the battlefield, while a third, who survived, received the Military Medal for his bravery,” Dr Sellar said.

“For many families, like my own, the events of 1916 are still personal. It is however an enormous privilege and honour to represent the Presbyterian Church in Ireland at such an historic occasion, as we pause and remember those who died and reflect on their loss.”

“I am also reminded of our own fractured society and troubled world we live in and the vital importance of critical reflection and inclusive remembering. I am also very conscious of the necessity to always search for true reconciliation and for the creative reimagining of a civil society humbly modeled on Christ Jesus for the common good,” he said.

The objective of the 36th Ulster division was to dominate the area between Beaucourt to the north and Thiepval to the south, necessitating the capture of all German trench systems in front of them, particularly the strongly defended Schwaben Redoubt. In addition to its twelve battalions, there were four battalions of Tyneside Irish and seven regular Irish battalions distributed in other divisions, giving a total of twenty-three Irish infantry battalions involved on this front.

The Somme campaign lasted 147 days, from 1st July to 24th November 1916. The Allies captured 120 square miles of land, and advanced six miles. They suffered 419,654 casualties: forty men killed or wounded for every yard advanced.


Wreaths Laid at the Memorial Stone, Thiepval Memorial

At the start of her visit last Thursday, the Minister laid a wreath at the Ginchy Cross in Guillemont. It remembers the sacrifice of the 16th Irish Division of the British Army, which entered the Battle of the Somme in September 1916. Minister Humphreys will return there for a separate ceremony to mark the centenary in September.

She then visited one of the many cemeteries in the Picardy area maintained by the Commonwealth Graves Commission. Delville Wood contains the graves of over 5,500 servicemen, of whom 3,500 remain unidentified. They include some Irish casualties.

Heather Humphreys also attended a special Abbey Theatre production of ‘Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme’, which was supported by her Department, at the Maison de la Culture in Amiens. It was attended by the playwright, Frank McGuinness.

On Friday morning the Cavan/Monaghan TD accompanied President Higgins at the Thiepval Memorial for an international service marking the start of the Battle of the Somme on July 1st 1916. This ceremony was attended by a number of senior members of the British royal family, the British Prime Minister David Cameron, and the North’s First Minister Arlene Foster MLA along with her counterparts from Scotland and Wales.

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.

CQMS Gerry White from Cork read from the last letter of Lt Tom Kettle, journalist and soldier with the 16th Irish Division. Students from St Paul’s community college in Waterford also played a role at the service, which was attended by 10,000 guests, mainly from the United Kingdom. Solicitor Brendan O’Reilly from Cootehill and his son Aoghan from Dernakesh National School travelled from Co. Cavan. They saw the grave of Mr O’Reilly’s grand uncle Rifleman J.P. O’Reilly. He served in the Royal Irish Rifles and was killed in September 1916. He is buried at the nearby Lonsdale Cemetery.

Speaking about her visit to France Minister Humphreys said:

“The Battle of the Somme was a seismic event, which had a huge impact on the island of Ireland. The Somme has particular resonance in my own province of Ulster, due to the very heavy losses suffered by the 36th Ulster Division on the first day of the battle. There were more than 5,500 casualties in the 36th on July 1st 1916, including 2,000 deaths. Over the four years of World War One, it is estimated that 50,000 Irish men were killed while serving in the British, Commonwealth or United States armies.”

“This had a profound effect on the island of Ireland, and almost certainly had an impact on every community across the country. For decades, the stories of these men went largely untold, and many of those who returned home from the Somme and other battles, felt forced to conceal their own experiences. The Decade of Commemorations has allowed us to explore some of these stories for the first time, giving those who fought and those who died their rightful place in Irish history.”

“During 2016, our centenary year, it has been incredibly important to me that we remember those who died fighting abroad, as well as those who died fighting during the Rising here at home. One hundred years on from both the Easter Rising and the Battle of the Somme, we are hearing a more complete narrative on the Irish experience in 1916, and the impact the events of that year had on our culture, our society and our psyche.”



Prince Charles at the Somme Centenary Service at the Thiepval Memorial  Pic. PA


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.


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.