Michael Feeney, OBE, one of the organisers of the 'Silent Night' centenary celebrations at Mayo Peace Park. Photo: Alison Laredo
IN the fading light of a midwinter’s day tomorrow (Christmas Eve), the famous World War One Christmas Truce of 1914 will be re-enacted in Castlebar. The Mayo Peace Park and Garden of Remembrance will be a fitting locale for the ceremonies, which will include a football match, the singing of Christmas carols and a performance by the Castlebar Town Marching Band.
Michael Feeney, OBE, founder of the Mayo Peace Park, has written the article below especially for The Connaught Telegraph.
The Soldier’s Christmas Truce of 1914 between German troops and the Allied troops was by any standards an extraordinary event. It was no myth even though the military authorities on all sides tried hard to cover up the truce.
However, the famous and immortal words ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’ really struck home for the first time. The image of opposing soldiers, shaking hands with each other on Christmas Eve, and then having to kill each other the next day, is a powerful one, and it is part and parcel of the remembrance of the Great War for civilisation.
In January of 1915, numerous international and national newspapers printed letters from the soldiers who had taken part in the Christmas truce. A German soldier famously remarked that it was a great pity that it was not a decisive and lasting peace.
The Allied troops were a mixed bunch, made up of English, Scottish, Welsh and Irish soldiers. They were the main participants in the Christmas truce, but the French and Belgians soon joined in to enjoy a few hours respite from the awful horror and carnage.
There was a general misconception that it was just the ordinary regular soldiers who took part in the truce, but reports showed that many of the officers and NCOs had also participated.
One year later, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, writing in his history of 1914, called the Christmas truce ‘a really amazing spectacle’, a ‘glimpse of humanity’ amongst the horrific carnage of war.
To this day, the very fact that on Christmas Eve in 1914 thousands of men stopped fighting and shook hands on the battlefield offers a strong message of hope that should never be forgotten. It was not the ordinary person or soldier that wanted war. It was the despotic and manic leaders that rise to power from time to time that caused all the bloodshed.
Peace is a very precious commodity at any time and those who made and took part in the Christmas Truce of 1914 realised this. The truce might have only lasted for a few hours, but its memory and legacy has lasted.
The German and Allied soldiers had joined together to halt the war, for one night, by declaring a soldiers’ truce. They simply stopped fighting out on the battlefields to mark the birth of their saviour Jesus Christ.
In what was a remarkable occurrence, the opposing armies came together to play football and share pictures of their families, enjoy drink, tots of rum and wine, and share family stories from home.
This all came about because the Germans who initiated the event had started singing Christmas carols, and of course the most famous carol of all was the German carol, ‘Silent Night’, which was the most well known carol of all time. The haunting carol was sung by a young German soldier with a magnificent tenor voice.
The guns of the battlefields fell silent and the firing ceased as peace reigned for that one night.
The night peace reigned, however briefly, on a French battlefield will be commemorated in the Mayo Peace Park, Garden of Remembrance on Christmas Eve, starting at 2.30 p.m. Volunteers from Castlebar Men’s Shed, dressed in Allied and German uniforms, will re-enact the historic soccer game. Castlebar Town Marching Band will be on hand to lead the musical entertainment. Legendary piper Pat Conlon will play some lively tunes of the period.
A prayer will be recited in memory of the dead, followed by some relevant poetry readings. The Last Post, in memory of the millions who died in The Great War, will be sounded.
The members of the Castlebar Men’s Shed choir will then sing a selection of Christmas carols and songs. Students from St. Joseph’s Girls Secondary School will join in the powerful and evocative song ‘A Silent Night 1914’.
Everyone is heartily welcome to come along, to join in or just listen to the Christmas carols, music and song, or just to gather around the specially constructed wartime bunker for what will be a unique and memorable ceremony.
The organisers express their sincere thanks to Horkans Garden Centre for sponsoring the lovely Christmas tree and tree lighting for the occasion.
Patrick ‘Paddy’ Horkan, the great grandfather, of the current owners of the firm, served with great distinction during World War One. Wounded on no less than three occasions, he was awarded the military medal for bravery in the field as a result of his heroic actions. After the war, he went on to play a prominent role with the old IRA during the Irish War of Independence.
Such were the times they lived in.