Remembering a famous wexford son
AN ECUMENICAL service of Remembrance and Wreath Laying marking the 100th anniversary of the death on the Western Front of one of Wexford's most famous sons - Major Willie Redmond, took place in Wexford town last Sunday.
Among those at the memorial ceremony held at Redmond Park were Christine, Kieran and John Meeke, descendents of Private John Meeke who helped carry the wounded Major Willie from the battlefield.
He was later to succumb to his injuries.
Retired major general David O'Morchoe, President of The Royal British Legion Republic of Ireland read the exhortation and dedication, before family members, one of them Dr Mary Greene, a great grand niece, and a large gathering of people from town and district and futher afield.
Led by the Mayor Cllr Frank Staples, and attended by members of Wexford Borough District Council, government representatives, the Royal British Legion (Wexford) and other branches from around the country, the ceremony was preceded by a parade from Redmond Square led by the New Ross FCA Pipe Band and a Colour Party from the Defence Forces.
Flanked by a soldier dress in World War One batteldress, Cllr Staples unveiled a plaque bearing the legend 'Don't go, come with me,' commemorating Major Willie's leadership and commitment not to ask his men to do anything he wouldn't.
Major Willie was killed at the Battle of Messines Ridge in June, 1917.
Willie Redmond, one of the first out of the trenches and leading his men, was hit almost immediately in the wrist and then, when hit in the leg, could do no more than urge his men on.
Stretcher bearers - among them Pvt Meeke - carried him to Casualty Clearing Station at the Catholic Hospice at Locre (now Loker) in Dranoutre where he died that afternoon - almost certainly from shock.
His wife and his brother John Redmond received over 400 messages of sympathy. Lloyd George introduced the Irish Convention on 11 June quoting Redmond's sacrifice. The French Government posthumously awarded him the Legion of Honour.
Last Thursday, the day after the 100th anniversary of Willie Redmond's death, Jarlath Glynn delivered a very well received lecture at Wexford town library entitled 'An Extreme Irishman - the life and death of Major Willie Redmond.'
And on Saturday, there were a series of talks on Major Willie at a Wexford Historical Society organised seminar taking place at Greenacres Art Gallery in Wexford town.
The event was opened by the mayor, followed by a talk by Martin O'Donoghure, from the NUI Galway, on 'One of the ablest and most distinguished members': Wille Redmond, Irish Party MP; by Dermot Meleady, biographer on 'we here who are about to die': Willie Redmond MP at the Western Front and Ronan MacGreevy, from the Irish Times, who spoke about the 'not so lonely grave of Willie Redmond; Remembering the Irish war dead.'
The seminar culminated with a walking tour led by Jarlath Glynn to the sites associated with the Redmond family in Wexford town and visited the Major Willie Redmond exhibition at the town library.
At the outbreak of World War One, John Redmond the Wexford politician and leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party called on the Irish Volunteers to enlist in the new British Army in the hope that this would strengthen the cause of implementing the Home Rule Act, suspended for the duration of the war.
This caused a split in the Volunteer movement and Willie Redmond, John's younger brother who was also an MP was one of the first to volunteer for the army as a member of the National Volunteers.
He addressed vast gatherings throughout Ireland and his catch phrase at this time was - 'don't go but come with me'. He felt he would serve Ireland best in the firing line.
As an MP Willie was an outspoken and passionate Irish nationalist. He was one of the first wave of nationalists who sat for an Ulster seat in Westminster. His years as an MP for North Fermanagh deeply affected him and made him realise how difficult it would be for Ulster unionists to accept Home Rule.
Willie Redmond was commissioned as a Captain in the Royal Irish regiment at the age of 53. He went to France on the Western front with the 16th Irish division in the winter of 1915-1916 and was soon in action.
The Easter Rising of 1916 shattered him and he seemed to realise that the tide was turning away from constitutional nationalism.
In December 1916, in a letter to his friend Arthur Conan Doyle, he wrote 'It would be a fine memorial to the men who have died so splendidly if we could, over their graves, build up a bridge between North and South.. the two sections from Ireland are actually side by side holding the trenches!'
He had become a Major in July 1916 but this promoted him away from the firing line, which greatly displeased him.
Redmond was convinced that the shared experience of the trenches was bringing Protestant and Catholic Irishmen together and overcoming the differences between Unionists and Nationalists.
His death on June 7, 1917, made a greater international impact than the death of any other British soldier at the time. Almost every newspaper in Britain and Ireland, both local and national carried notice of his death. Among those who paid tribute to him were the unionist MP Sir Edward Carson, and the poet Francis Ledwidge.
He was buried in a single grave which stands on its own outside the official war cemetery in Locre, Belgium where his fellow troops are buried.