I want ye to tell everyone ye meet,” said proud Limerickman Paddy Brosnahan in an unscripted but wonderfully delivered speech at the official opening of a new exhibition honouring Limerick’s military tradition. The Leader is taking Paddy at his word – and we strongly recommend that all our readers find a couple of hours over the summer months to take in one of the best exhibitions Limerick has seen in years, Stand Up and Fight, at City Hall.
One hundred years after the terrible events visited on us by the First World War, it is of the utmost importance that Limerick recognises the many sacrifices of its own people. And so this is an exhibition that matters, for many reasons, the biggest of which is the overdue tribute it pays to the one thousand sons of our city and county who went off to fight in the war and never came home. Had their lives been spared, they would have returned – like the 3,000 Limerickmen who did make it back – to a place that had changed utterly.
Nobody could have seen it coming. At the outbreak of war, who could have imagined that men would return to Limerick having fought bravely amid indescribably horrific conditions, only to find themselves firstly shunned and later forgotten?
In September 1914, six weeks after Britain’s declaration of war on Germany and with Home Rule for Ireland just passed into law, John Redmond pledged his support to the Allied cause and urged the Irish Volunteers to join the British army. “The interests of Ireland – of the whole of Ireland – are at stake in this war,” he said. Many heeded the call and formed the National Volunteers, joining war-bound regiments; a minority of the 10,000 strong members split from Redmond.
Of course, a great number of those from Limerick who went off to the war did so for economic reasons – it was a paying job, after all. Others enlisted because they were seduced by a sense of adventure. Thousands of Limerick families sent sons to the front and we hope as many as possible will now pay a visit to the Stand Up and Fight exhibition, where the names of the fallen are beautifully inscribed on a memorial.
There were many from a naval tradition in attendance last week, including family members of the 11 seamen from Coonagh who perished when HMS Goliath was sunk a century ago this very week. As Limerick’s superb archivist Jacqui Hayes remarked on the night, imagine the reaction today if 11 young men from the same small place died side by side on the one day. How wonderful, then, that Coonagh will commemorate those wartime servants of the Royal Navy with the unveiling of a splendid monument this weekend.
They, like the others who gave their lives in that terrible war, deserve nothing less.