Prince Edward, the Duke of Kent laid a wreath at the Sigerson Memorial at Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin on Wednesday.
He is the first member of the British Royal family to honor Irish rebels who fought in the 1916 Easter Rising. He also paid tribute to Irish soldiers who fought in both world wars.
The Duke laid a laurel wreath in memory of the Irish rebels and he laid a poppy wreath at the commemorative walls, which mark those who died in the world wars. The Duke toured the cemetery with historian Shane Mac Thomais, who pointed out the plots of some of Ireland’s leading figures, including Daniel O’Connell, Roger Casement, Michael Collins, Eamon de Valera and Charles Stewart Parnell.
The Duke is the president of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, which has been working with the Glasnevin Trust over the past four years to erect headstones and mark the graves of 208 Irish men and women who served in the British forces. Glasnevin Trust chairman John Green said the work done to remember the sacrifice of the Irish who died during the war years was firming up relations with Britain.
The Irish Independent quoted Green, “The Commonwealth War Graves Commission, of which he is president, has been a wonderful partner without whom most of the 208 graves of people who fought in the First and Second World War would still be unmarked despite their great sacrifice. It has been a wonderful collaboration and we believe one that is playing its part in further strengthening the bonds between our two great nations in this modern era.”
The Duke visited Glasnevin with Jimmy Deenihan, minister for the arts, heritage and the Gaeltacht, junior minister Brian Hayes, British Ambassador Dominick Chilcott, and Democratic Unionist MP Jeffrey Donaldson.
During World War I Ireland was still under British control and many Irish men and women fought with British forces during the war. Many of the Irish Volunteers served in the Irish Regiments in the British Army. After the First World War ended, the Irish Republican Army waged a guerilla war against Britain between 1919 and 1921. The Anglo-Irish Treaty, ratified in 1922 ended the Irish War for Independence. The treaty created the Irish Free State and permitted Northern Ireland to opt out of the Free State, which it did. The controversy surrounding the division of Ireland contributed to the Irish Civil War.
Ireland was officially neutral during the Second World War, but Allied mechanics were allowed to retrieve crashed Allied aircraft and there was much cooperation between British and Irish intelligence. An estimated 7,000 Irish soldiers fought with Britain during the Second World War and they were dismissed from Ireland’s Defence Forces for desertion and they lost their pension. Returning soldiers also faced criticism from their communities for failing to defend Ireland in case of an Axis invasion during the war. In December of 2012 Minister of Justice Alan Shatter published a bill that would grant apology and amnesty to Irish soldiers who fought in the Second World War.