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Webmatters : The Irish Peace Park at Mesen
Rough Map of Area

Mesen/Messines

Páirc Siochána d’Oileán na h’Éireann

Location

The tower is easily visible on the hillside and is located on the N365 road between Ieper, Wijtschate, Mesen and Ploegsteert.

Rather unusually, it is actually situated on part of the ridge taken by the New Zealand Division and their monument and memorial are also within the village.

The large farm just down the hill on the main road is the Petite Douve Farm and scene of one of the unexploded mines from the battle. It had been located and flooded by the Germans and still lies in situ.

I wonder what their household insurance is like!

GPS N E Wikimapia
Decimal 50.759835 2.895648 Map

The Irish Peace Park

 

Background

On 7th June 1917 the British detonated mines along the entire length of the Messines Ridge and stormed its heights. It was one of the most stunning victories of the war.

The battle was the first time that the 16th (Irish) Division and 36th (Ulster) Division fought side by side in the trenches.

On the right of the village of Wijtschate the 36th (Ulster) Division faced one of the most heavily defended sectors of the German line and it was for this reason that they were given the greatest concentration of the mines along their front.

These were the Kruisstraat group, Peckham mine and the massive mine at Spanbroekmolen. This last was named after a mill that had been on the site and the engineers (who had only completed it the day before) had doubts that it would go off.

It did, causing the largest crater of the day. Today it is known as the Pool of Peace and can be visited quite easily. Unfortunately as there had been worries that it might not go off the Ulstermen went over the top on the dot when nothing happened. They were already out of their trenches when the mine exploded a few seconds later causing a number of casualties.

Map of the Battle of Messines

There are maps of the area

16th (Irish) Division found that their attack against Wijtschate was made relatively simple by the mine at Maedelstede Farm and the twin mines at Petit Bois, which broke any resistance. The village like Mesen had been heavily fortified by the Germans, but a heavy bombardment on 3rd June had battered the defences.

A sad loss to the Division was the death of Major Willie Redmond who was injured near Maedelstede Farm whilst advancing with the 6th Royal Irish. He continued on but was injured again in the leg and could no longer stand.

The Irish Nationalist MP was whisked off the battlefield by the stretcher bearers of the Unionist 36th Division. The Ulsterman who tended him, by chance also being called Redmond. If he had been younger Redmond’s injuries would not have been too serious but at 56 years of age the shock was too great for him and he died from his wounds before he could be sent back.

He was buried by members of both Irish communities in the grounds of the Loker Hospice garden where he had died. His grave is now situated just outside the CWGC Locre Hospice Cemetery at Loker (Note the Flemish spelling for the village).

 

No longer forgotten Men

There was a feeling in many parts of the community in Ireland that those who had joined the British Army had betrayed their own country in some way.

This was despite the fact that leaders from both communities urged their men to fight – indeed the brother of the Nationalist leader was killed not far away from this tower.

Following the Great War, Partition in Ireland and the Irish Civil War, the soldiers from the Republic (as it now is) were put aside.

Memory of heroic deeds became partisan, with commemoration seemingly resting in the hands of the Protestants of Ulster, whose Tower at Thiepval in France was one of the first memorials erected.

An historic partnership

This memorial to the Irish who died whilst fighting in the British Army during the First World War was sited here at Mesen (Messines) because of the area’s links with both the 16th (Irish) Division and the 36th (Ulster) Division who fought side by side in the area during the Battle for Messines Ridge 1917.

Its form is traditional dating from the 8th century and was built by young people from all over Ireland using stone from an almshouse in Mullingar which had recently been demolished.

By chance (or perhaps not) the first VC of the war went to Lt Maurice Dease of Mullingar, a Royal Fusilier who was killed at Mons in 1914. He is buried at St Symphorien Military Cemetery

 

A symbol of conciliation

The peace pledge

Born of a joint venture by Unionist Glen Barr from Northern Ireland and TD Paddy Harte from the Republic it is hoped that the Tower and Park will serve as a gesture of conciliation between the communities of Ireland and as an act of commemoration for those who had been forgotten.

The inaugural  plaque in English

It was officially opened by the President of the Irish Republic Mary McAleese on 11th November 1998 in the presence of their Majesties Queen Elizabeth II of the UK and King Albert II of Belgium.

Since then it would appear to have had a somewhat war torn existence in regard as to just who is supposed to be maintaining it.

For the moment Maintenance has been contracted out to the CWGC, which I think is a bit of a shame really. After a lot of words about how Irish families could at last be proud of their British Army relatives, suddenly the upkeep of the monument lands in the hands of the British !


Those who died were remembered only by their families and friends, they were forgotten by a nation who had found other heroes.


Yesterday the State acknowledged in powerful symbolism that this is a pluralist state, that to be Irish is not just to be Nationalist and to be a Nationalist is not just to be of the Sinn Féin tradition. For too long the official version of Irish history denied these essential facts.


It is important and correct that the House recalls today the events of 80 years ago, acknowledges the sacrifice that was made and regards that sacrifice as a central part of the Irish story. When that sacrifice is fully accepted, we will be the better for it.

Taken from the Senate Debate in Dublin on 12 November 1998

 

The NZ Memorial, Irish Tower and Mesen church

On the left is the New Zealand Memorial, on the right the Irish Tower and Mesen church

 

The Park

The Irish Peace Park

The central focus of the park is its round tower, a style of building that goes back to the Viking invasions of the 10th Century. Around the southern perimeter is an incomplete earthen wall which represents the ring forts that can still be found across Ireland today.

Blocks carry the names of the provinces of Ireland

Plinths carry the names of the four Provinces of Ireland
Connaught, Leinster, Munster and Ulster

Three blocks carry the numbers of dead for each Division

The casualties of each of the two Irish and Ulster Divisions.

  • 10th (Irish) Division; 9,363 killed, wounded, missing
  • 16th (Irish) Division; 28.398 killed, wounded, missing
  • 36th (Ulster) Division; 32.186 killed, wounded, missing

The 10th Division may have been spared higher casualties by being employed elsewhere than the Western Front (Gallipoli, Salonika and Palestine).

Looking up, inside the tower

Looking up from within

The tower is 30,5m high with a diameter ranging between 6.3m and 4.9m. The tower’s interior is built of solid concrete blocks. Most of the external cladding of the tower consists of Irish rubble.

A directory of all Irishmen who died

Within the tower are the war memorial books by John French (1922) commemorating the names of approximately 49 000 Irishmen who died during the First World War.

 

Accounts from the war

Along the path leading to the tower are nine stones carrying quotations from Irish writers.

Patrick MacGill

I wish the sea were not so wide
That parts me from my love
I wish the things men do below
Were known to God above

I wish that I were back again
In the glens of Donegal
They’ll call me coward if I return
But a hero if I fall

Patrick MacGill
London Irish Rifles

Charles Miller

As it was, the Ypres battlefield just represented one gigantic slough of despond
into which floundered battalions, brigades and divisions of infantry without end
to be shot to pieces or drowned until at last and with immeasurable slaughter we
had gained a few miles of liquid mud.

Charles Miller
2nd Bn Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers

J F B O'Sullivan

In a matter of seconds a hissing and shrieking pandemonium broke loose.

The sky was splashed with light.

Rockets, green, yellow and red darted in all directions
and simultaneously a cyclone of bursting shells enveloped us.

J O’Sullivan
6th Bn Connaught Rangers

 

Some background about the Divisions

How to tread carefully over Irish politics ? It isn’t easy but I shall try to give an even handed resumé.

Other memorials in the area