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Minister Sherlock addresses Forgotten Gaelic Volunteers event

Forgotten Gaelic Volunteers event

Queen’s University Belfast, 13th October 2014

Remarks by Minister Sherlock


I am pleased to be here on this significant occasion and to have the opportunity later to hear tonight’s speakers discuss the different narratives and perspectives on World War 1 and how they have shaped life on this island.

I want to thank Ulster GAA for bringing us together to remember the often forgotten Ulster GAA members who fought in the First World War. Our history is more complex than sometimes acknowledged. It is to the GAA’s credit that they are reaching out and commemorating the lives of the Gaelic volunteers in this way.

I was thinking earlier that one hundred years ago, in October 1914 the war had only just begun. Tomorrow, October 14th marks the start of the first battle of Ypres.

The first reports of lives lost were only beginning to trickle home to devastate countless families and no one knew yet the scale of what was still to come. No one knew either the scale of change that would happen across Europe and across these islands during and after the years of the First World War.

Thousands of young men left Ireland to fight in the First World War and they did so for a whole range of reasons. Those who survived and returned, came back to find much had changed here. North and South were taking on a new meaning beyond simple geography, and attitudes to service in the First World War came to be shaped retrospectively by the unionist and nationalist movements of that time.

As WW1 claimed more Irish lives than any other war, there are many families who suffered a loss. Events like this tonight help ensure that the families, some of whom for generations have not felt that they could openly grieve, know that their history is our history.

Dealing with the past and understanding how it affects our present is vital. The upcoming all-party talks convened by the Irish and UK Governments will look at how we deal with our more recent past. Building reconciliation around the commemoration of centenary events helps to form a more positive backdrop to this difficult task. It reminds us all of the importance of showing respect for different narratives and finding space for different cultural traditions.

I want to take this opportunity to highlight the important role of civil society in the process of reconciliation. Civil society can be a voice for progress, for dialogue that achieves positive change and for reconciliation.

We see here tonight how civil society, in general, and sports and sporting organisations in particular can be a powerful force to influence change and to reconcile people.

I want to commend Ulster GAA for commemorating a part of their history which has a particular resonance for many members of the Irish unionist community on this island, and who, I know, will appreciate the respect being shown this evening by Ireland’s largest civil society organisation the GAA to this important piece of British and Irish history.