An estimated 500 people attended this year's Remembrance Ceremonies for the Inishowen men and women who died during world war one.
A large crowd of people were joined by over 150 who travelled from Belfast for the event and around a further 100 from Derry.
The crowd were welcomed by John McCarter, Chairman of Fort Dunree Military Museum, whose organisational capacities are now beyond reproach given the weather he delivered in the midst of a rain-sodden summer.
MC for the afternoon PJ Hallinan started proceedings by introducing All Ireland Champions, The Buncrana Youth Accordion Band who played as the crowd gathered into the old fort.
A good friend of the Fort Dunree event, playwright and songwriter, Sam Starrett, who passed away earlier this year was remembered as his friends Roy Arbuckle and Richard Laird performed a song Sam composed for the event, ‘I Wish I Was Back in Dunree’, and Ruth McPhilps sang his now famous John Condon Song. Tracey McRory, Sam’s partner, ended this part of the proceedings with a beautiful lament on violin.
Three local clerics, Canon Sam Barton, Fr John Kelly and Rev David Hagan then led a service of remembrance and this was followed by a reading of the Inishowen Roll of Honour. The names of those who died were read out on a parish by parish basis covering everywhere in Inishowen from Newtowncunningham to Malin Head. Many of those reading the Roll were descendants of the fallen. Three years ago the list had 193 names on it but since then, through research and people getting in touch with the organisers, it has grown to 226 and there may still be further names to add to it.
As the Last Post was sounded by Robert Goodman the entire gathering stood to attention as the Standards of eight different organisations were dipped under the watchful eye of UN Veteran, Gabriel Duffy. These included The Connaught Rangers Association, The Ancient Order of Hibernians, The Royal Naval Association, The Royal Airforce Association, The Royal Corps of Transport Association, and Branches of the Royal British Legion.
Austin Montgomery of the Tullintrain Pipe Band then played a lament as wreaths were laid by Mairead Diggin, Chair of the Inishowen Partnership Company, Kathleen Coady, Inishowen Friends of Messine, and Joe Halley of the United Nations Veterans Association. Denis Rowan of FAS, who has been instrumental in building the Island of Ireland Peace Tower in Messine, Belgium, and the Peace Village also laid a wreath. Janet Ervine, wife of the late David Ervine MLA, who was a stalwart in supporting the Dunree event since its inception, then laid a wreath on behalf of the International School for Peace Studies at Messine, which was established to bring young people from both traditions on this island together to look at our shared past and future. Indeed many of the young people from Inishowen who have had the privilege of visiting the Peace School were in Dunree to witness the occasion. Wreaths were also laid on behalf of the Royal British Legion, the Ancient Order of Hibernians, and families of the dead.
After the formal ceremonial, John McCarter of Fort Dunree addressed the gathered crowd and paid tribute to Glen Barr without whom none of these events would have come about. John referred to the significance of both Fort Dunree and the unique opportunity which the ceremonies there provided for people from all parts of the Island and from all political backgrounds to get together to mark a shared part of our history. The ceremonies were brought to a close as PJ Hallinan called on Tracey McRory to play ‘Danny Boy’ on the violin as she has done on every previous occasion, and as her notes took wing over the Swilly, many of the assembled were thinking not only of the men who died in World War One but of those friends of Messine who have passed away since the last Dunree gathering, Sam Starrett, David Ervine and Derek Stone.
The National Anthem was then played by Buncrana Youth Accordion Band and the crowds moved out of the old fort and up to the newly refurbished buildings at Dunree to the accompaniment of the Tullintrain Pipe Band. Both bands are now an integral part of the day and have become part of the symbolism of the occasion itself, coming together to play in a common cause.
It was only as the crowd began to mingle around the food and bar areas that the diversity of people now coming to Dunree for this event became apparent. Mark Durkan, MP, MLA was present while Donegal was ably represented by Colr Dermot McLaughlin, Fianna Fail, of Buncrana. From Belfast, senior loyalist Jackie McDonald and UPRG representative Frankie Gallagher mixed freely with the Donegal people, showing to many how far along the road to peace we have come. Jackie Hewitt, Chair of the Farset/Inishowen Project, who along with Co-Operation Ireland part funded the event had brought many major community figures down for the day including Billy Patterson C.E.O. of the Shankill Community Council and Joe Coggle, Deputy Mayor of Belfast. Senior figures from both the Orange Order and the Apprentice Boys of Derry sat down to eat alongside representatives from the Ancient Order of Hibernians, and all were agreed that the Inishowen event had been an outstanding success which they would return to next year.
This third Remembrance Ceremony at Fort Dunree was the biggest yet and has become a focus for many working for peace and reconciliation. The number of Inishowen people attending and participating actively in the event is also increasing, as more and more families become aware of their connection with that time. The organising committee of the Inishowen Friends of Messine are a small but dedicated group and would like to invite anyone who might be interested in helping to plan and run the event next year to get in touch. Also if you are aware of any further names which should be added to the Roll of Honour please contact Fearghal O Boyle or PJ Hallinan at 07493 62218.