This memorial is engraved into the marble wall at St. Matthew’s Cathedral in Washington, D.C.:
Sacred To The Memory Of
The Men And Women Of Irish Blood
Who Served In The Great World War
I had walked past it many times without noticing. You can see why in the photo at the bottom. The eye is drawn up to the gold bas-relief sculpture of the Third Station of the Cross (“Jesus falls the first time.”) rather than the words below it.
The memorial is ambiguous. Is it dedicated to Irish immigrants and their offspring in America who served in the First World War, or does it also apply to the Irish in Ireland? Remember, the United States didn’t enter the war until April 1917, nearly three years into the conflict. It was only then that Irish immigrants from America were shipped to continental battlefields. See my earlier post: An Irish-American’s most perilous summer, 1918. Irish blood had been spilled from the start of the war in 1914.
The cathedral staff has been unable to provide any details about its origins. I have also reached out to the Ancient Order of Hibernians. Please contact me if you have any information.
This Nov. 11 is the 105th anniversary of the armistice ending the war. I am traveling to Belgium and hope to visit the Irish Peace Tower in Flanders. It is said to be the only location on the western front where both Irish nationalists and unionists, Catholics and Protestants, fought together in the trenches.
Five years ago I was driving from Galway city to north Kerry on a rainy Sunday morning at the centenary of the armistice. I listened to special programing on RTÉ that marked the solemn occasion. Bells tolled at the eleventh hour of that eleventh day of the eleventh month.
A year later I attended Mass at St. Malachy’s Catholic Church in Belfast. There, another memorial to Irish lives lost in the Great War was erected inside the church before the fighting concluded on the continent. I might have missed it, too, except that the priest mentioned it during his homily.
May all victims of the Great War, including innocent civilians, rest in peace.