Remembrance of lives lost in conflict has been a part of the Cathedral’s role since its foundation. During the Williamite-Jacobite War in the 17th Century soldiers were buried here. In the 19th and 20th Centuries, a large variety of monuments commemorating soldiers were added to the building, and regimental colours were hung on the walls.
World War One created a new dimension to Remembrance within Anglicanism. The Church of Ireland community, along with many other elements of society, suffered terribly. Bereaved families struggled to make sense of this loss of life. Prayers for the dead had been traditionally associated with Roman Catholicism; but the enormous loss of life incurred during World War One began a process of alteration to attitudes in the Church of Ireland in response to remembering the faithful departed.
In November 1919 a Remembrance Day Evensong was held in Saint Patrick’s Cathedral: beginning an annual tradition that continues to this day. This provided grieving families with an opportunity to come together as a community to provide mutual support. In the early years after the war similar communal acts of remembrance were popular among a broad range of communities including Roman Catholic and Anglican. These Services were especially poignant as men and women who had survived the conflict were firsthand witnesses to the war.
In the 1920s remembrance of the dead from World War One became a political and cultural issue in Ireland. The War of Independence, the Civil War, and the establishment of the Free State separated most of Ireland politically and culturally from Britain. Remembrance of World War One was perceived as representing the “old” Ireland. In some cases this view manifested itself as hostility toward those who engaged in remembering World War One.
“I remember a time when we would have stones thrown at us as we
walked into Remembrance Sunday Service.”
(Former Dean of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Victor Griffin)
The decision to place memorials and monuments which related to the war inside Church of Ireland churches excluded them from popular view. Remembrance Services such as those in the Cathedral took place outside the popular public consciousness.
In November 1991 President Mary Robinson became the first non-Anglican President to attend annually the Remembrance Sunday Service in the Cathedral. The end of “The Troubles” in Northern Ireland and the success of the peace process marked a renewed interest in Ireland’s role in World War One. Nationalist and Unionist communities discovered that World War One was a common ground: both had participated and suffered equally in the war.
Today, Remembrance Sunday at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral is broadcast annually on national radio, and local communities have begun to visit the Cathedral to learn about its life, history, and its role in remembering those who suffered because of conflict.
“For years the First World War has stood as a blank space in memory for many Irish people – an unspoken gap in the official narratives of this state. Thousands of Irish war dead were erased from official history, denied recognition, because they did not fit into the nationalist myth and its “canonical” lines of memory.”
(President Michael D Higgins)
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