In Ireland, the National Day of Commemoration/Lá Cuimhneacháin Náisiúnta, commemorates all Irish people who died in past wars or United Nations peacekeeping missions. It occurs on the Sunday nearest 11 July, the anniversary of the date in 1921 that a truce was signed ending the Irish War of Independence. The principal ceremony is held at the Royal Hospital Kilmainham, Dublin.
The commemoration of Irish soldiers and wars has been fragmented within Ireland for historical and political reasons.
Ceremonies to honour Irish soldiers who fought in the First World War have been held in Ireland in November on Remembrance Sunday and Remembrance Day since the war’s end. These are mainly organised by the Royal British Legion and ex-servicemen and relatives. The focal points were St Patrick’s Cathedral and the Irish National War Memorial Gardens, both in Dublin. Though many Irish nationalists served in the British Army prior to independence, this was not generally held in high esteem by later generations. Independent Ireland remained neutral in World War II, and although thousands of its citizens served in the allied armies, the state did not at first mark this.
Commemoration of the Irish War of Independence was muted by the bitterness of the Irish Civil War that followed from it. The preceding 1916 Easter Rising against British rule in Ireland was the focus, with Easter Day considered the “National Day of Commemoration”. There was a major parade each Easter until 1971, when the Troubles in the north of Ireland made the commemoration of the earlier Irish Republican rebels more problematic in symbolism. Smaller official commemorations persisted at Arbour Hill Prison.
Within the Defence Forces, a Commemoration Day for deceased former members is held on All Souls’ Day, 2 November. 11 July, the anniversary of the 1921 truce, had already been a special Army holiday before being the base date for the National Day of Commemoration.
In 1974, the coalition government proposed Saint Patrick’s Day as a day for commemorating all Irish people who had given their lives in wars, marked with a message from the President, prayer and a moment of silence. The Fianna Fáil opposition objected. In the early 1980s, in response to the Northern Ireland Troubles, the Glencree Centre for Peace and Reconciliation in Co Wicklow was organising “Walks of Remembrance” around sites in Dublin significant to all historical combatants. In 1983, the Irish Defence Forces were represented in the British Legion’s Remembrance Sunday service in Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, under the flag of the United Nations. This was controversial and the Fianna Fáil opposition suggested a separate day of commemoration would be more inclusive.
An informal Oireachtas all-party committee was established in late 1984 to examine the question of a single National Day of Commemoration. It held four meetings and reported to the government in October 1985. The view of this Committee was that there should be a religious service and a military ceremony. This has been the tradition since, although Noel Treacy complained that the military presence was “on a small-scale compared with that visualised by the all party committee”.
The first National Day of Commemoration was held on 13 July 1986 in the Garden of Remembrance. Old IRA veterans objected to the venue, which commemorates those who died in “the cause of Irish freedom”, being used to honour British Army veterans. The absence was noted of Leader of the Opposition, Charles Haughey, and Lord Mayor of Dublin, Bertie Ahern, both represented by subordinates. This was ascribed to discontent within Fianna Fáil about the event.
Haughey became Taoiseach after the February 1987 election. He announced the commemoration ceremony would be replaced by separate church services by the various denominations, with no military or government presence. The opposition parties objected, and both sides negotiated a compromise, whereby the ceremony, and the commemorative plaque which had been unveiled in 1986 by President Patrick Hillery, were moved to the Royal Hospital. This, originally a British Army hospital, is now the Irish Museum of Modern Art. However Irish Republicans and IRA veterans of the Irish War of Independence objected to the presence of the British Legion at the ceremony. Subsequent ceremonies have not proved controversial.