WHILE some graveyards in Fermanagh – both Catholic and Protestant – clearly mark the site of war graves, the council here has decided against erecting signage at the main council cemetery at Breandrum – sparking outrage among unionists
“I think it is very, very petty,” remarked DUP councillor Bert Johnston.
“It is a small thing for the people buried in these cemeteries, people who laid down their lives so we could be free.”
UUP councillor Basil Johnston explained that he was at the committee meeting where the decision was made not to erect the signs and after doing some research he discovered there were 19 graves in Breandrum that fell into the category of a Commonwealth war grave and nearly all related to the First World War.
“My grand-uncle fell at the battle of the Somme. It was a great sacrifice and republicans are opposed to this sign,” he said.
“Republicans have shown a lack of understanding, these people volunteered and were mown down like flowers, they have shown a great disservice to the people who fell.
“It was only a small sign and it is very sad it wasn’t allowed, it should have been uncontentious.”
Sinn Fein councillor Ruth Lynch stated the decision was not political, but rather was about a council policy.
“Everything we do, we do it by a policy. We can’t set precedences. This was not against a group or people at all.”
“I would take some convincing on that,” responded Bert Johnston who when told by the chair he had made his point, asserted: “I will not be silenced.”
Trying to calm matters Sinn Fein councillor Martin McGovern told the meeting that he too had a grand-uncle that lost his life in the First World War.
“We have a shared history and this wasn’t about one side against the other.”
Meanwhile, Stuart Brooker from Monea, who owns and operates his own firm ‘Grave Image’, which specialises in the maintenance of graves, does work for the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, both north and south of the border and in Fermanagh.
He explained there are around 130 Commonwealth war graves in the county.
“Quite a lot of them are isolated, there are a number in Breandrum, but the main plots are in Irvinestown; the Church of Ireland and Catholic Church, they’re maintained on a regular, weekly basis, because they’re big plots with flower borders and everything.”
At the two churches in Irvinestown signs indicate the presence of these war graves.
“I would be personally disappointed given this year is the big anniversary of the First World War and the council have chosen maybe not to recognise that, but that’s their decision and I suppose you can understand some of the issues around signage.
“The thing that disappoints me more is if you take this outside Northern Ireland into Southern Ireland there have been massively forward steps.
“The war graves commission are doing so much work to ensure that graves of soldiers who died in the First World War, who were literally buried and their memory buried and forgotten about are now being recognised.
“Their graves are being marked and new signs and information boards are going up. It is disappointing up here we still seem to be reticent about it.”