As founding Chair of the Somme Association I am delighted and indeed honoured to be have been invited to speak at the launch of a very important initiative. It is appropriate to be standing here at Farset as the Farset organisation was responsible for organising along with myself to take young people from the two main communities to visit the Ulster Tower and Thiepval Memorial in France in the 1980’s. This trip began to explain our Common Identity and Common History in the First World War.The Somme Association was initiated as an inter-community project to honour all the soldiers from Ireland who took part in the First World War particularly, the 36th Ulster Division and the 10th and 16th Irish Divisions. The creation of a new flag showing great respect for those who fought in this war on the 100th Anniversary of the Somme is therefore to be welcomed
Helen’s Tower was designed in 1848 by William Burn in the Scottish style and construction was completed in October 1861. It was part of an ambitious landscape project by Lord Dufferin covering the five miles between it and the coast at Helen’s Bay, to aid local labourers made destitute by the Great Famine. The tower was eventually named in honour of his mother Helen, who was a grand daughter of Richard Brinsley Sheridan, the great Irish playwright, orator and politician. It was built as a Gamekeeper’s residence but became a retreat for his mother who suffered from cancer of the breast and poems were written in its honour by Tennyson, Kipling, Argyll and other luminaries of the nineteenth century literary world.
However, the tower took on an unforeseen poignancy after the battle of the Somme in 1916. The land around the tower had been used as a training camp by the 36th (Ulster) Division prior to their embarkation from Belfast for France and, for those soldiers, Helen’s Tower would have been a lasting image as they sailed out of Belfast Lough. For this reason, in 1921, funds were raised by the families of the fallen initiated by Sir James Craig and a replica, the Ulster Tower, built on the battlefield at Thiepval.
A verse from “Helen’s Tower” by Alfred Lord Tennyson reads –
“Helen’s Tower, here I stand,
Dominant over sea and land.
Son’s love built me, and I hold
Mother’s love in letter’d gold.
Love is in and out of time,
I am mortal stone and lime.
Would my granite girth were strong
As either love, to last as long
I should wear my crown entire
To and thro’ the Doomsday fire,
And be found of angel eyes
In earth’s recurring Paradise.”
In the Memorial Room of the Ulster Tower at Thiepval, the first four lines are inscribed,although slightly altered to make them a fitting tribute to the Sons of Ulster:
“Helen’s Tower here I stand, dominant over sea and land.
Son’s love built me and I hold Ulster’s love in lettered gold.”
This new flag represents that continuing love and remembers everyone who gave so much for so many.
It may be that there are certain setbacks of such magnitude and heroism, in this case the enormous losses of the 36th Ulster Division at the Somme, that they serve to sustain and temper a people instead of weakening them. Or else, perhaps the setbacks come to have an energising, emblematic power. Perhaps, it may be that the Somme has come to symbolise unconsciously the thwarted nationhood of the Ulster People. Perhaps at the level of community consciousness the loss of the sons of Ulster and the founding of Northern Ireland are intertwined. The Battle of the Somme became Northern Ireland.
And so, to the Mothers of Ulster we say:-
“Mothers of Ulster. Grieve no more for your sons. For your sons now lie in the bosom of a great and noble nation. And your sons are no longer solely the Sons of Ulster, they have become the Sons of France”.
In Ullans or Ulster-Scots:
“Mithers o Ulster, Greet nae mair fer yer sons. Aye, fer yer sons noo lee amang a grand an gintil fowk,
An yer sons are nae mair jist the Sons o Ulster, They have becum the Sons o Fraunce forbye”.
To the people of France we say:-
“People of France, mother of nations, we thank you for your generosity and kindness to these our children who rest now in peace in the most beautiful gardens on earth. We pray that their sacrifice will not be in vain and that there will be no more war and that the peoples of Europe will walk together in mutual forgiveness, understanding and respect until the end of the world”.
Au people de France nous disons:-
“Peuple de France, mére des nations, nous vous remercions de votre générosité pour nos enfants qui reposent en paix dans les jardins les plus beaux du monde. Nous prions pour que leur sacrifice n’ait pas été vain, pour qu’il n’y ait plus de guerre, et pour que les peuples d’Europe puissent marcher ensemble et se pardonner, se comprendre et se respecter mutuellement jusqu à la fin des temps”.
Zu den Franzosen sagen wir:-
Bevölkerung von Frankreich, Mutter von Nationen, wir danken Ihnen für Ihre Grosszügigkeit und Freundlichkeit für unsere Kinder, die in diesen schönen Gärten in Frieden ruhen. Wir beten, dass das Opfer unserer Kinder nicht umsonst gewesen ist und dass es zu keinem weiteren Krieg mehr kommen wird, dass die Völker Europas in Vergebung, Verständnis und Respekt miteinander in die Zukunft gehen können.
To the sons of Ulster and Soldiers of Ireland we say:-
“Sons of Ulster, Soldiers of Ireland do not be anxious. The war is over – both here and in your beloved Ireland. The Western Front is no more and Ireland at last is at peace with herself and with her people. We will always remember you, so long as the sun shines and the rain falls and the wind blows and the great river Somme runs gently to the sea”.
Innui, deir muid le fir Uladh agus le fir na hÉireann:-
“A Fheara Uladh agus a Shaighdiúirí na hÉireann, ná biodh imni oraibh. Tá an Cogadh thart – ní amháin san áit seo, ach in bhur dtír dhílis féin in Éirinn. Níl an Fronta Thiar ann níos mó, agus, so deireadh, tá tír na hÉireann faoi shíocháin léi féin agus len a pobal. Ach chomh fada is a shoilsíonn an ghrian, agus a thiteann an fhearthainn, agus a shéideann an ghaoth, agus chomh fada is a théann abhainn mhór an Somme go caoin chun na farraige, bedh cuimhne againn araibh go deo”.
Finally I speak in Lakota (Oglala Sioux), the Hymn of the Warriors
Ho Tunkasila Wakan Tanka
Oyate oyasin unsiwicalapo na owicakiyapo
Nahan waci wicasi na waci winyan wopila tanka
Nahan oyate oyasin canku luta ognamani owicakiyapo
Lecel wacin ho hecel lena, oyate kin nipi kte.
Which in Wasicu(English) is
Grandfather Great Spirit, Almighty God,
Have pity on and help all the People
Many Thanks for the Participants here today, male and female,
Help all the People to walk the Red Road of Peace
This I ask so that the People will prosper
You are all my relatives
Dr Ian Adamson OBE