All the packing is done, and all my loose ends have been attended to, and at eight o’clock this evening I am getting on the bus for Belgium. Over the next two weeks I will be working with a small team of In Flanders Fields fellowship winners on the Irish soldiers’ graves records at Ieper/Ypres. For those interested in the Irish history of World War I this is a magnificent opportunity, and I am grateful to the Irish Embassy in Brussels and the Ieper Museum for the opportunity. This does not stop me from being a little apprehensive about being away from home for so long, especially with so much else going on around college registration and so on. I am sure that most of these concerns will evaporate once I am bored out my skull on the twenty-five hour coach journey to Kortrijk in Flanders. As much as this will be a great adventure to close off an otherwise unremarkable Irish summer I am certain that there will be moments of sadness. Travelling by land and sea to what was in 1915 the trench system of the Western Front, I will be travelling in the very footsteps of the hundreds of thousands of young Irishmen who fought in the British Army during the so-called Great War.
Ùr-Fhàsaidh (@UrFhasaidh) August 23, 2015
At In Flanders Fields we will be looking at the thousands of records of those unfortunate lads who never made the return journey, but who lie today in the war graves of Belgium and France. All of these events are now a century behind us, but each one of these yellowing paper documents speaks of a life forever extinguished by the savagery and violence of war. Back home in Ireland and in Britain, as those young soldiers sheltered in the muck, this war was being described as the War to End all Wars, but that it never was. The brutality of mechanised warfare realised between 1914 and 1918 was to become a whole new chapter in the way in which people would kill other people. Part of me wants to describe this war as the opening salvo in the wholesale genocide of the twentieth century. We think too often of soldiers as the willing victims of Ares, but these boys had no choice. The lion’s share of the blood spilt on those fields was the life blood of the working men of Europe; this was the genocide of a whole generation of the industrial class. I doubt very much that this will be the last time in the next fortnight that I will be sparing a thought for these poor souls.