On a wet and blustery day at the start of November, a few of us set off for the scenic drive up through Fanad and Buncrana, out the Inishowen Penisula to Fort Dunree. The Fort sits on a headland overlooking Lough Swilly, and the site has been used as a fortress for many, many years. It guards the mouth of the deep water anchorage in Lough Swilly, which for a period during the First World War became home to the British Grand Fleet, after they withdrew from Scapa Flow in the Orkneys. This was an eventful period in the history of Inishowen with some one hundred capital ships, support tenders, torpedo boats and lighters, based within the anchorage in and around Buncrana. As a result of all this military activity, Sunbeam Masonic Lodge No 191 Buncrana, for the short period of The Great War, became one of the largest Lodges in The Irish Constitution. It sent one hundred and four Brethren off to serve in the War, and unusually they all returned safely at the end of the War. Most of these members, were English, Scottish and others, based with the fleet in the Swilly, and played an active part in Lodge activities between 1915 and 1918. Sadly, at the end of the War, as these Brethren returned to their home ports, the Lodge suddenly suffered a substantive drop in membership, which caused it some difficulties in the short term in the months ahead.
The afternoon began with a warm welcome from P.J.Hallinan, the chairman if the Inishowen Friends of Messines and was followed by the singing of the hymn “Abide with Me” Then John McCarter, Chairman of the Fort Dunree Military Museum gave a short address on the topic of Remembrance, as it applied in Inishowen. Other readings were made and then the Last Post was played.
Laurence Binyon’s moving exortation ” They Shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old” was recited and then the wreath laying ceremony took place, as Captain Billy Doherty R.N. Ret played a lament on his bag-pipes.
This was followed by a minutes silence, and then the Island of Ireland Peace Pledge was read. This was followed by the Kohima prayer ” When you go home. . . . ”
and then Reville was played. Thanks were given by John McCarter to all present for coming out in such a stormy day and supporting this event, when so many other similar events were taking place elsewhere. Then we all were given an invitation to join with John, PJ and the rest of the team up in the Saldhana Suite, for some refreshments and the launch of a commemorative book entitled “Participant Reflections”, a record of the thought and emotions of one group of twenty six participants who took part in a Battlefields Tour visit to Belgium and Northern France, in May 2013. Each participant was asked to keep a diary of their experiences and this new book, come from a selection of the diary entries recorded during their visit.
So having arrived in the Saldhana Suite, we enjoyed a musical interlude provided by Tracy McRory and Richard Laird, two very talented local musicians, who gave us an excellent set including the Ballad of John Conlon.
John McCarter and PJ Hallinan made the introductions to the Book Launch and after quoting a few short extracts introduced Col Declan O’Carroll Rtd, a well known local historian, and past chairman of the Donegal Historical Society, who had the pleasant duty of launching this fascinating new study on the battlefield visit, and the reactions of the participants to the stories that they heard and the things that they saw.
Brethren, the book is well produced, brightly illustrated and nicely presented. Each individual entry is credited to its author and together they give an indepth overview of the entire experience of a visit to the Somme. Copies of the book are available at a cost of £ 5.00 Sterling and can be purchased on site,at the museum shop in Fort Dunree. Anyone wanting more information, should contact www.dunree.pro.ie for further details. John McCarter thanked everyone for supporting the afternoon’s activities and before closing the formal part of the proceedings, he presented two OCN Certificates to those who had successfully completed the course.
This concluded the formal part of the day, and we all crossed to the Kitchen area for tea and nibbles, before resuming our seats to catch up, with the many old friends present. Or if you wanted, you could watch the photo story of the 2013 Hands of History project which was being screened in the background, as a record of the many activities recorded on the battlefields tour.