By Julie Kirby, Dublin reporter
BBC
23 Mar 2012

Hundreds of thousands died in the Battle of Passchendaele from July to November 1917

People in the Irish Republic have been remembering their ancestors’ involvement in the Great War this week.

A call by the National Library in Ireland for family souvenirs of World War I has brought large numbers of people to Dublin.

The mementoes will form part of a european-wide project to mark the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of war in 1914.

Peg Coyle from County Mayo has a bag filled with items evoking precious memories of her father, Michael Staunton.

There are Christmas cards, medals, papers and even a helmet belonging to the soldier who fought in the Scottish Royal Field Artillery.

She said: “He died in 1964 and I used to always say to my mother I’d love to find out more, and she’d say ‘look let it go with him’, he never talked about it.

“When my brother and I were small we would question him about the war and his big brown eyes would fill with tears and he would say I hope you never live to see a war like it again.”

It was an emotional day for Peg, who says it is only in later years she has realised the greatness of what her father did.

Of course for many in the Irish Republic, to serve in the British Army in the last century was not considered something to celebrate.

That sentiment is changing, as evidenced by the hundreds upon hundreds of people who have turned up at Dublin’s National Library.

They have come to have their stories and mementoes saved for posterity.

The medals, photographs, diaries and many other items will all be logged and digitised as part of the Europeana project – the first ever Europe-wide online archive of private stories and documents to mark the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the Great War.

Jonathan Purday is the project’s head of communications.

Discharge papers

There have been roadshows in nine different countries so far, and the turnout in Ireland has far surpassed anything he has yet experienced.

“In a way I’m not surprised because people have an urge to tell that story – the forgotten story of a difficult decade in Irish life and it gives the opportunity to celebrate people who were stalwart and brave,” he said.

What is unique about the project is that it will record all shades of opinion, from dissenter to war hero, he said.

And those stories will be accessible to a new generation on new technologies such as phone apps, ensuring little is forgotten.

There to remember his grandfather was Paddy Reid from Dublin.

His grandfather was Patrick O’Neill who spent much of his life suffering because of injuries he suffered at the Battle of Passchendaele.

“I just want to honour his memory because it wasn’t honoured at the time, there was a sense of shame and guilt that they had fought in the wrong war, so to speak,” he said.

“I’m just proud we’re here now to honour those men, they’re long gone but not forgotten.”

Paddy had his grandfather’s discharge papers with him.

They said “surplus to requirements” – a cruel way, Paddy feels, to dismiss a young man who would suffer physically and emotionally for the rest of his life for his contribution to the Great War.

At least his story and all the others can now be told.

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