Dr Paisley meets President Mc Aleese

Northern Ireland First Minister Dr Ian Paisley, left, meets Irish President Mary McAleese for the first time, at Somme Heritage Center, which honors the sacrifices of British soldiers from Ireland in World War I, at Conlig in Northern Ireland, Monday, Sept. 10, 2007. [AP]

 William Sloan was born in Newtownards, County Down, Ireland. He was the only  son of Anthony and Lizzie Sloan ( McCreedy) who lived in Roseneath Cottage, Main Street, Conlig, near my father’s shop, at the corner of  the Tower Road, leading past Clandeboye Golf Club to Helen’s Tower . The couple were married on 24th  August,1896 in Ballygilbert Presbyterian Church. Anthony, who worked as a general labourer, was the brother of my two grannies Martha and Isabella Sloan. He had two children William and Lillah..William enlisted at Clandeboye, without his parent’s permission,and, like other young men from Conlig , came home already wearing his uniform. He served with the 11th Battalion Royal Irish Rifles in 108 Battalion of the 36th (Ulster) Division and he was killed in action on the first day of the Battle of the Somme (1st July,1916) aged only 19 years. 

Initially William was posted as missing in action but his mother Lizzie never accepted that he was dead. Until the day she died on 24 January 1932 the front door of the cottage was left unlocked, day and night, just in case William came home. He is commemorated in Conlig Presbyterian Church and on the Thiepval Memorial , France (Pier and face15A and 15B). 

But the story does not end there. I delivered daily newspapers to his sister Lillah Hamilton in Roseneath Cottage as a boy. Lillah talked often of her brother and thought that I reminded her of him, for we looked alike and, of course, he was the cousin of both my grannies. And that is why I formed the Somme Association in 1990.

On Monday 10th September, 2007, at the Somme Heritage Centre, Dr Ian Paisley as First Minister of Northern Ireland and the head of state of the Irish Republic, President Mary McAleese, shook hands for the first time – another symbolic milestone on Ireland’s road to reconciliation. As Dr Paisley’s Personal Physician and Advisor on History and Culture , this gave me the greatest of pleasure, as it was the culmination of  my vow to my relatives that the deaths of my Grannies’ cousin William Sloan and his comrades would  not be in vain.

 On the occasion President Mc Aleese said:” It is an honour to be here at the opening of this exhibition commemorating the Battles of Guillemont and Ginchy, part of the heroic struggle of the Battle of the Somme fought over ninety years ago. Congratulations to Dr Ian Adamson, Carol Walker and all the members of the Somme Association for this labour of love which allows the stories of those who fought and died to be honoured and respected and better known by a new generation.

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