World War I Centenary
Commemoration in Belgium

President Michael D Higgins (right) and his wife Sabina (second from right) are welcomed by King Philippe and Queen Mathilde of
Belgium as they arrive at the Abbey of St Lawrence to attend the commemoration for the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the
First World War in Liege, Belgium.

By Matthew Skwiat, Contributing Editor
October / November 2014

July 28 marked the one hundred year anniversary of outbreak of the Great War, and commemorations echoed around the world. Representatives from 70 countries, including Ireland, flocked to Liege and Mons in Belgium to take part in a day of remembrance. Irish President Michael D. Higgins was on hand to attend the many ceremonies and offer a few words of remembrance.

Speaking to The Irish Times he said, “I think the significance of heads of state coming together on the anniversary of World War I is an opportunity to recognize the catastrophe the war was.”

Some of the commemorative events under way are ruffling the feathers of anti-war campaigners who find the pomp and circumstance of the military at odds with the memory of the war dead.

Anti-war activist and artist Robert Ballagh is in favor of stripping the commemorations of a military presence. He actively voiced his displeasure saying, “It seems to me that all the generals and all the military people have been polishing up their buttons and their medals: medals that they got for killing people.”

Ballagh did, however, remain respectful to the memory of those who died in WWI, and was positive about honoring those who fought. “We absolutely have no problem at all in commemorating and remembering and mourning those who died in this tragedy, this catastrophic war. But I would prefer if these commemorations just dealt with that and left the military people at home in their barracks.”

President Higgins reasoned that the remembrance of World War I should not be divisive but instructive, saying, “I think we should use the opportunity of World War I to recognize the catastrophe that war is as well as how easy it is to become trapped in a bubble of warlike thinking. And to learn from its lessons, and this is consistent with my previous public life, about the importance and the difficulties of building peace.”

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