‘Pilgrimage of Hope’ to WWI battlefields

Archbishop Eamon Martin.
Archbishop Eamon Martin.

Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council has provided generous financial support for 16 young people from the borough travelling next week to Belgium First World War battle fields .

The two Archbishops of Armagh will lead a joint “pilgrimage of hope” to the Irish peace park at Messines and sites of the Battle of the Somme.

Church of Ireland Primate Rev Dr Richard Clarke and Catholic Primate Rev Eamon Martin will accompany the cross-community delegation, totalling 36 people.

Two years on, building on the previous pilgrimage and now marking the upcoming centenary of the end of the First World War, the archbishops will once again lead a group of people of varying ages and backgrounds and representing the Protestant and Catholic traditions to the poignant sites relating to the First World War.

Their three-day visit, starting next Wednesday, will culminate in a reflective visit to Messines peace park. The delegation will, in visiting the war sites, be able to forge friendships and share their thoughts and hopes for the future while exploring their cultural identities.

The sites on the pilgrimage will especially focus on the Battle of Messines and the arenas in which soldiers from the 16th (Irish), 10th (Irish) and 36th (Ulster) Divisions fought and died in Belgium and France and will also include laying of a peace wreath at Menin Gate at Ypres. The group will also visit cemeteries and memorials including Thiepval Wood, Guillemont and the Ulster Tower; the Memorial Museum, Passchendaele, and Tyne Cot cemetery.

Ahead of the visit, the archbishops said: “We have much to learn from this trip, and from each other. It is our vision that the pilgrimage will be a witness to hope and that the visits to these important and symbolic sites in the centenary year of the end of the First World War will enable us to forge even greater friendships and work yet harder for peace together in the future.”

The Ulster Memorial Tower is a Somme battlefield memorial to men of the 36th (Ulster) Division. It commemorates the heavy losses suffered by the 36th Division on July 1, 1916, first day of the battle. The Island of Ireland Peace Park is a memorial to the huge number of Irish soldiers who died, were wounded or are missing. The tower memorial is beside the site of the June 1917 battle for Messines Ridge.