President Higgins joins British royals to mark Battle of the Somme centenary

Today marks 100 years since the start of the four-and-a-half month battle which left over one million dead or injured.

EVENTS ARE TAKING place in France and Ireland today to mark the centenary of the start of the Battle of the Somme.

President Michael D Higgins and Minister Heather Humphreys will attend a ceremony at the Thiepval Memorial in France this morning, along with several members of the British royal family.

president-higginss-state-visit-to-portugal-8-12-dec-2015-3-390x285 Chris Bellew / Fennell Photography Chris Bellew / Fennell Photography / Fennell Photography

Prince Charles, his wife Camilla, Prince William, his wife Kate and Prince Harry are all expected to attend, along with British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Francois Hollande.

Irish events

A military ceremonial event was also held this morning at the War Memorial Gardens in Dublin and the South Mall in Cork to mark the anniversary.

The Dublin event, involving members of the Defence Forces and the Royal British Legion, began shortly before 7.30am – marking the exact time the battle started 100 years ago.

Another event will be held later at the Belfast City Hall Cenotaph, with Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar expected to attend.

The minister will lay a laurel wreath at the Cenotaph during the official Belfast City Hall ceremony, alongside Belfast Lord Mayor Brian Kingston.


Last night, a vigil was held at Thiepval Memorial in France, attended by several members of the royal family.

Somme 100th anniversary Yui Mok Yui Mok

The first day of the Battle of the Somme became the bloodiest in British military history, with more than 57,000 casualties recorded, of which 19,240 were fatalities.

More than one million people were killed or injured during the battle, which lasted nearly five months.

It is estimated that 50,000 Irish men were killed while serving in the British, Commonwealth or United States armies during the four years of World War I.

A ceremony will take place at 11am this morning at the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing of the Somme, which was built between 1928 and 1932 to honour the 72,195 UK and South African soldiers whose bodies were never recovered following the battle.

The monument was designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens, who also designed the Irish National War Memorial in Islandbridge, Dublin.

Higgins will be accompanied by his wife Sabina. About 500 Irish citizens are also expected to attend.

Somme 100th anniversary PA Wire / Press Association Images PA Wire / Press Association Images / Press Association Images

Yesterday, Humphreys, the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, visited Delville Wood cemetery before laying a wreath at the Ginchy Cross in Guillemont.

The cross stands in remembrance of the 16th Irish Division of the British Army, which entered the Battle of the Somme in September 1916.

Humphreys said the deaths of an estimated 50,000 Irish men during the war “had a profound effect on the island of Ireland, and almost certainly had an impact on every community across the country”.

For decades, the stories of these men went largely untold, and many of those who returned home from the Somme and other battles, felt forced to conceal their own experiences.
The decade of commemorations has allowed us to explore some of these stories for the first time, giving those who fought and those who died their rightful place in Irish history.

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