The Lurgan War Memorial
By Ken Austin
The men that came back to Lurgan in the Spring of 1919 were not the same as those who had left in the blaze and glory of patriotic fervour amid brass bands and cheers in 1914. Many were haunted to their dying days by the horrors they had seen, many more felt abandoned by the Government who had promised them a heroes return. Very soon that abandonment turned to contempt and suspicion for the leaders of the nation for which they had fought so hard and lost so many friends and family.
An article written at the end of the war stated:
"The men and women of Lurgan and district responded nobly to the Call to Arms when in 1914 the Nation's appeal, "Your King and Country Need You," was sent out. The quota from our town and district was not exceeded by any other centre either in Great Britain or in Ireland, and even when the first flush of enthusiasm had abated a steady stream of recruits for our regiments flowed in, and every recruit was a volunteer. Nurses were supplied in large numbers, and a very competent committee looked after the Comfort Fund for our troops overseas. Our local Prisoners of War Fund was also well organised and generously supported, and by popular subscription a fully equipped motor ambulance was presented to the Red Cross Society."
That same spring of 1919 it was agreed that a memorial to those sons and daughters of Lurgan who had made the ultimate sacrifice should be erected. Sadly that was as far as the agreement went. Many factions with their own agendas came forward with ideas for the war memorial:
The Lurgan Technical School management committee proposed building a new technical school as a memorial. An application to the appropriate public building fund had already been rejected. A new cottage hospital was suggested. A forerunner to the British Legion, the 'Irish federation of Discharged and Demobilised Sailors and Soldiers', backed by the Winders and Weavers Union suggested a public swimming pool. It was announced at the end of April however, that the memorial would be a new monument to be built in the Main Street, the location to be determined at a later date. A War Memorial Committee was formed and set about raising the estimated £3,000 needed to build the memorial. As with the disagreement of what the memorial should be, now the committee was divided as to the design and location of the memorial. The in-fighting continued until May 1921, when it was announced that subscriptions were being returned because of a lack of agreement on the design of the Memorial.
In November 1924, a magnificent marble altar rail was erected in St. Peter's parish church by Lurgan Catholic ex-servicemen in memory of their fallen comrades. Sadly this memorial no longer exists. As a result of liturgical changes following Vatican II, the altar rail was subsequently removed. (When Pope John XXIII announced the creation of the Second Vatican Council (also known as Vatican II) in January 1959, it shocked the world. There hadn't been an ecumenical council - an assembly of Roman Catholic religious leaders meant to settle doctrinal issues - in nearly 100 years.) Meanwhile, all over Ireland and the rest of Britain, Memorials to the dead of The Great War were being erected. Even the little village of Dollingstown, just 2½ miles away had managed to erect a Memorial and the lack of one in Lurgan was much discussed at it's dedication in July 1923. Present at that dedication were six veterans from Lurgan who were so shamed by the lack of a suitable monument in their home town that they forced the issue onto the next Council meeting agenda. The great majority of local opinion had also changed and was now leaning towards the idea of a purely symbolic memorial. Another committee was formed and by the middle of June 1924, £2,400 had been raised toward the building of a permanent War Memorial in Lurgan.
Many sites were put forward for the location of the monument and finally it was decided to redevelop the site at Church Place in Market Street, where the Coalbrookedale Fountain was situated. The Cast Iron Fountain was erected in 1888 to celebrate the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria and was built by the Coalbrookdale Company of Ironbridge, Shropshire. The Company were well known for their cast iron structures, both decorative and functional, ranging from their popular fountains created as a kit of parts from their extensive pattern books to Iron Bridges. The fountain was dismantled and moved to it's current location in Lurgan Park.
A London sculptor Leonard Stanford Merrifield was appointed to design the memorial, based on his work on the Merthyr Tydfil Memorial in Wales and the Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry memorial at Bodmin. The Lurgan War Memorial consists of a cupola-style temple in stone on a raised plinth reached by steps, with bronze lamps at each corner, and on top, an Angel of Victory. Merrifield's original design was for a small temple, which would be surmounted with a life-sized figure of a soldier. The temple was to be hexagonal (six-sided) and contain a central pillar on which would be inscribed the names of the fallen. Once again dissent raised its ugly head. The war memorial committee liked the Temple design, but rejected the idea of a soldier and asked for a winged figure of Victory to be substituted instead. Merrifield obliged with a female figure, holding aloft a palm frond in her right hand. The memorial committee now found the Victory figure too peaceable, and asked Merrifield if he could put a sword in her right hand, with a circular laurel wreath in her left. The artist, perhaps tired of the successive changes-of-mind, dug his heels in and stuck with Victory as he had originally envisaged her. Therefore the Lurgan war memorial is in the form of a hexagonal temple, with the hexagonal shaft bearing the inscriptions of the 300+ war dead, surmounted by a life-size bronze winged figure representing the spirit of Victorious Peace alighting on the earth. Her head is crowned with bays and her right hand is holding a palm branch, while the left is extended in token of blessing. The bay leaves and palms relate to Classical Greek and Roman tradition. Bay leaves were used to mark victory, whilst palms were used in the ancient world as a symbol of resolution overcoming calamity. There is, too, a Christian link, with Palm Sunday, and the use of palm fronds to mark Christ's triumphant entry into Jerusalem. The war memorial measures 25 feet, 9 inches (8.25m) in total height and was constructed of granite stone. The Primary stone type being Grey Aberdeen Granite, the Secondary stone type being Polished Red Granite. The memorial is paved with a marble interior. The war memorial was built by Robert Lynn, an architect from Belfast and Lurgan, who was the son of Samuel A. Lynn of High Street Lurgan.
There was more argument and discord over the inscription on the memorial. Many wanted an hierarchical listing on the monument, with Officers listed at the top. They also wanted the dedication to read: "In grateful memory of the officers and men of Lurgan and district". Democracy prevailed however and no rank or regiment was mentioned and names were placed in strict alphabetical order and the final wording was settled as:
IN GRATEFUL MEMORY OF THE MEN OF LURGAN AND DISTRICT WHO GAVE THEIR LIVES IN THE GREAT WAR 1914-1918
THEIR NAME LIVETH FOR EVERMORE
Each face of the entablature or cornice is inscribed with the names of one of the principal battlefronts at which the men of Lurgan served. BELGIUM, FRANCE, PALESTINE, MESOPOTAMIA, GALLIPOLI and ITALY.
In the newly formed Northern Ireland remembrance ceremonies had become distinctly Unionist and Protestant in nature, in Lurgan however, extra effort was made to ensure that the names of Catholics were also included on the memorial, sadly the names of many Catholic War Dead did not appear there.
And so on 23rd May 1928, almost 10 years after the end of 'the war to end all wars', the Lurgan War Memorial was finally unveiled. The dedication was performed by James Albert Edward Hamilton, the 3rd Duke of Abercorn, Governor of Northern Ireland. The Prayer of Dedication was said by Capt. Rev. A. Gibson who said:
"To the Glory of God, in the faith of Jesus Christ, and in memory of those of this town of Lurgan and district who fell in the Great War, we dedicated this Memorial in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost."
Before the unveiling there was a Church Parade of the Catholic Ex-servicemen, numbering 160 men, who attended St. Peter's Church, where Requiem Mass was celebrated and afterwards, preceded to the place of assembly in Lurgan Park. There they formed up with other ex-servicemen making a total of upwards of 700 men to march to the memorial where the massed choirs, numbering some 250 voices were already in position.
Lurgan's war record is a worthy one, and one that every native should be proud to relate. Lurgan sent over 3,000 of her sons to the far-flung battle fields, to the fleet, and to the air service. A large percentage made the supreme sacrifice, while a great many were wounded; over 100 were made prisoners of war for varying periods, and many others were invalided with life changing injuries as a result of war service.
There are many stories of heroism and sacrifice behind the names recorded on the memorial, the untold stories of Protestant and Catholic brothers-in-arms, laying down their lives for each other in horrendous circumstances. Names like the Hobbs brothers, all of whom died on the terrible first day of the Battle of the Somme, 1 July 1916. All three were in the same unit, the 9th battalion of the Royal Irish Fusiliers (part of the 36th (Ulster) Division). Billy McFadzean who was awarded the Victoria Cross for the sacrifice he made, saving so many lives in one unselfish act. Many of these names, we have recorded in our War Graves section and we would urge you to research these unsung heroes for yourself, so that their ultimate sacrifice will never be forgotten.
On the 10th November 1957 another dedication was made at the memorial to the fallen of Lurgan in another World conflict, to commemorate the 82 men from Lurgan who died in World War II.
THEIR NAMES LIVETH FOR EVERMORE
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