St Martin’s Cathedral, Ieper

St Martin’s Cathedral (Flemish: Sint-Maartenskathedraal), also called St Martin’s Church (Sint-Maartenskerk), is a church and former cathedral in the city of Ypres. It was a cathedral and the seat of the former diocese of Ypres from 1561 to 1801, and is still commonly referred to as such. It is among the tallest buildings in Belgium at 102m (335ft) tall.

Corner of Square leading to the Cloth Hall, Ieper

Construction started on the church in 1230, and was finished in 1370. There had previously been a Romanesque church in the area, dating from the 10th or 11th century.

Side of Cathedral

After the 1801 Concordat between Napoléon and Pope Pius VII, Ypres was incorporated into the diocese of Ghent and Saint Martin’s lost its status as a cathedral. As with many former cathedrals (pro-Cathedrals), it is often still referred to as a cathedral by locals.

Main entrance to St Martin’s Cathedral, Ieper

It suffered heavy damage during the Great War. Subsequently (1922–1930) the ruin was cleared and the church was entirely rebuilt following the original plans, although the tower was built with a higher spire than the original.

St Martin’s Cathedral

Cornelius Jansen, the father of the theological movement Jansenism, was Bishop of Ypres from 1635 to 1638. He is buried in the cathedral. Count Robert III of Flanders, popularly known as The Lion of Flanders, is also buried there.

St Martin’s Cathedral, Ieper

Because a funeral Mass was about to start and the bell was tolling as we arrived at the church, it was not officially open for visits. But joining a short queue at the main entrance and going into the Cathedral we paid our respects to the deceased whose remains were resting in a coffin at the back of the church, then remained standing at the doors to say a few prayers whilst taking in the vast interior. This seems to be a local custom. The mourners and undertaker must have wondered who we were gatecrashing a funeral….!


Baptismal font at St George’s Church Ieper

St George’s is an Anglican Church within the Church of England’s Diocese in Europe. The Diocesan Bishop is the Lord Bishop of Gibraltar in Europe who shares his responsibilities with the Suffragan Bishop in Europe.

St George’s is a Pilgrimage Church for the many thousands of people who visit the World War One sites of the Ypres Salient Battlefields. There is a small resident congregation who live in Ypres and surrounding area of Belgium and Lille in northern France.

St George’s Church Ieper

Figure of a ‘Tommy’ among the pews

Here the congregation offer Christian worship and prayer in the Anglican tradition to be ‘still in the presence of the Lord’ in a place filled with the memorials of stained glass, brass and stone, to those who fought for peace and justice, who gave their lives for their country in two World Wars.

The Church welcomes tourists. pilgrims and school students from many countries, churches and world faiths. The pastors are committed to ecumenical partnerships working together with fellow Christians.

Exterior wall of St George’s Church Ieper

Memorial for British Army 1914 commander Field Marshal French

The team minister to the British Community, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, and to all who enter the Church.

Memorial crosses and wreaths at St George’s Church Ieper

The Church gives Christian burial to the recovered remains of soldiers of the Great War (1914—1918), some known. others known only to God. The Church is a house of God and a place of remembrance.


Tyne Cot memorial and cemetery

Tyne Cot Memorial bears the names of some 35,000 men of the British and New Zealand forces who have no known grave, nearly all of whom died between August 1917 and November 1918. This area on the Western Front was the scene of the Third Battle of Ypres, also known as the Battle of Passchendaele. It was one of the major battles of the First World War.

Cross of Sacrifice at Tyne Cot cemetery

  • It was designed by Sir Herbert Baker with sculpture by Joseph Armitage and Ferdinand Victor Blundstone. He designed many of the CWGC memorials and cemeteries in Belgium and France.
  • The memorial was unveiled by Australian soldier and veterans’ rights activist Sir Gilbert Dyett, on 20th June 1927.
  • The names are carved on the memorial on panels of Portland stone, set in high flint walls which have been built in a half circle.

Tyne Cot cemetery

The memorial is a semi-circular flint wall 4.25 metres high and more than 150 metres long, faced with panels of Portland stone. There are three apses and two rotundas. The central apse forms the New Zealand Memorial and the other two, as well as the rotundas and the wall itself, carry the names of United Kingdom dead.

Australian Division memorial at Tyne Cot cemetery

Two domed arched pavilions mark the ends of the main wall, each dome being surmounted by a winged female figure with head bowed over a wreath. The following inscription is carved on the frieze above the panels which contain the names:


At each corner of the structure there are carved wreaths. Atop each of the pavilions is a winged figure in grief surmounting a globe. The globe itself is ringed with symbols including a Fleur-de-Lys, a shamrock, an anchor, a rose, an eagle and an oak leaf.

Tyne Cot memorial and cemetery

The sculptors Ferdinand Victor Blundstone and Joseph Armitage were commissioned to work with Baker on the memorial. Blundstone carved the angels surmounting the chapels and record building, and Armitage did the wreaths carried by the angels. There was concern about the fragile state of the sculptures and Blundstone arranged for them to be completed from a scaffold after they were hoisted into place.

Tyne Cot cemetery July 2017

Tyne Cot cemetery cross of sacrifice


Sanctuary Wood museum

In the last decade there has been a large increase in visitors to the Ypres Salient, and many have included a visit to the trenches at Sanctuary Wood, a few kilometres outside Ieper.

WWI shell and British Army cap badges

In the 1990s the trenches were covered in grass and the whole site was overgrown with undergrowth. Nowadays the ground around the trench line has been visited by so many pairs of feet that it is mostly bald with no grass or undergrowth.

British Army WWI recruiting poster

The need for the preservation of battlefield areas makes for an interesting discussion. The natural desire to be allowed to walk freely amongst historical remains such as these trenches is one side of the argument, the possibility that they will be damaged in so doing is another.

Vickers machine gun

It’s been a topic of discussion for some years already by battlefield historians, local authorities and the people who live with the scarred landscape all around them.

German machine gun

Sanctuary Wood is a fascinating example of how such war remains bring together the local people who own the ground and live with them daily, the people who come in their thousands each year to see them, historians who debate whether these trench remains are original or not, and the people who want to find ways to preserve endangered WW1 battlefield remains.

Belgian Royal Family Tree

The museum was developed by Jacques Schier, the grandson of the farmer who founded the museum and owned the site of the museum since before World War I. It has a unique collection of World War I items, including a rare collection of three-dimensional photographs, weapons, uniforms, decommissioned bombs and shells.

WWI British Army recruiting poster

On entering the museum through the café visitors will be in a room with display cases on tables in the centre of the room. Many interesting photographs are arranged on the walls. In this room you will find a large and rare collection of three dimensional photo images inside special viewing boxes. These 3D photographs were produced after the war and are absorbing and absolutely fascinating to look through.

Calling on young Belgians 18-25 to enlist

The museum collection contains equipment removed from the battlefield in the vicinity of Sanctuary Wood. There are several German grave markers reclaimed from the battlefields. These were removed from their original burial location after the burials were presumably moved from outlying battlefield burial plots into a formal German military cemetery during the battlefield clearance after 1918.

Last refugees in Ieper at the Cloth Hall 1915

Among the battlefield relics is a rare example of a British Army Cook’s Wagon. This was given a treatment of wood preserver in the 1980s by volunteers from the British Army’s Royal Corps of Transport serving near Antwerp.

Ruins of Ieper

In what was once a house, several rooms are dedicated to various displays of wartime memorabilia. They include some fascinating posters and pictures, including several showing the devastation of Ieper (Ypres) by the Germans during World War One.

More pictures of the destruction in the centre of Ieper


Plaque at Ledwidge Cottage

Plaque at Ledwidge Cottage

My journey this evening took me along the N2 heading Northwards from Dublin and past a sign indicating “Ledwidge Country” outside Slane in Co. Meath. It’s a good staring point as I mentioned it at the end of yesterday’s blog about Maev Conway-Piskorski. Her mother Margaret (Maighréad Uí Chonmhidhe) had given a lecture at the folk school in Bettystown in 1966 about the poet-soldier Francis Ledwidge. I quote from the book “Seanchas na Midhe” (eds. Ní Chonmhidhe Piskorska & Brück 2009):

“Margaret Conway remembered meeting the poet when she was a young girl in Colga, when he visited her brothers and “fellow poets” at their home. Her painting of the Maiden Tower at Mornington, reproduced on the cover of this booklet, depicts a scene romantically associated with Francis Ledwidge and with Ellie, the young woman who inspired many of his poems” 

Meath Lore

Meath Lore

Ledwidge was born in Slane in 1888 and after joining the Volunteers in 1913 enlisted in the British Army the following year in the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers. He was killed at the battle of Ypres (Ieper) in Flanders in July 1917.

In 1982 a museum was opened by the Omagh writer Benedict Kiely in the cottage where Ledwidge was born. There is a plaque in his memory attached to the front wall of the cottage. It states that it was erected by the Slane guild of Muintir na Tíre on September 9th 1962. A copy of the plaque is set in stone at the approach to the bridge over the River Boyne at Slane.

Ledwidge Cottage & Museum

Ledwidge Cottage & Museum

Continuing past Slane I stopped in County Louth close to the county boundary with Monaghan, where the province of Ulster begins. I watched another Tyrone writer and journalist Martina Devlin being interviewed on the RTÉ Nationwide programme about her home town of Omagh. Talking about the education she received at Loreto primary school, she mentioned the influence of the local poet, novelist and writer, Alice Milligan, whose background is very interesting. From a Protestant family and educated at Methodist College, Belfast, she went on to become an Irish nationalist and a leading figure in the Irish literary revival, who mixed with people like Yeats, Casement and James Connolly. She edited a magazine produced in Belfast at the end of the 19thC, Shan Van Vocht and was an organiser for the Gaelic League. Born at Gortmore, outside Omagh in September 1866, she died in April 1953 and is buried in the Church of Ireland cemetery at Drumragh.

Grave of Alice Milligan

Grave of Alice Milligan

DJ O'Donoghue & George Sigersondiscussing memorial

DJ O’Donoghue & George Sigerson
discussing memorial

While researching William Carleton in the UCD Archive I found a number of letters from Alice Milligan then living at University Road Belfast (near Queen’s University) written to the biographer DJ O’Donoghue (librarian at University College). One of the letters enclosed five poems (LA15/1149). She also agrees to contribute to the Mangan memorial fund, a project which O’Donoghue was working on with George Sigerson to provide a memorial to the poet at St Stephen’s Green. The photo of the two men chatting about the Mangan project is copyright © IVRLA  (Irish Virtual Research Library and Archive)  and is reproduced with the kind permission of Professor Helen Solterer  from an original in  UCD Library Special Collections. The bust of James Clarence Mangan can be seen if you are walking through St Stephen’s Green not far from Newman House and near the middle of the park.

James Clarence Mangan

James Clarence Mangan

UPDATE: Thanks to Charles Fitzgerald for having read the above and sending in the following quotation from a Ledwidge poem (Ceol Sidhe):

“And many a little whispering thing
Is calling the Shee.
The dewy bells of evening ring,
And all is melody”.

The poem and other works by Ledwidge can be found here.