National Day of Commemoration (Irish: Lá Cuimhneacháin Náisiúnta) commemorates all Irish men and women who died in past wars or on service with the United Nations. It occurs on the Sunday nearest July 11, the anniversary of the date in 1921 that a truce was signed ending the Irish War of Independence. The principal ceremony is held at the Royal Hospital Kilmainham.

Background:

Commemoration of soldiers was politically fragmented in Ireland.

The Royal British Legion in Ireland has held ceremonies in November on Remembrance Sunday and Remembrance Day since the end of the First World War, to honour Irish soldiers who had fought. This was observed mainly by ex-Unionists and ex-servicemen. Though many Irish nationalists served in the British Army prior to independence, this was not generally a source of pride for later generations. The Irish state remained neutral in World War II, and although thousands of its citizens served in the allied armies, the state did not at first mark this. Since the 1980s a change of attitude and understanding towards Ireland's different national traditions now sees state commemorations to honour those Irish who served and died in both world wars being held at the Irish National War Memorial Gardens, near Islandbridge, Dublin.

Commemoration of the Irish War of Independence was muted by the bitterness of the Irish Civil War that followed from it. The preceding 1916 Easter Rising against British rule in Ireland was the focus, with Easter Day considered the "National Day of Commemoration". There was a major parade each Easter until 1971, when the Troubles in Northern Ireland made the commemoration of the earlier Irish Republican rebels more problematic in symbolism. Smaller official commemorations persisted at Arbour Hill Prison.

Within the Defence Forces, a Commemoration Day for deceased former members is held on All Souls' Day, November 2. July 11, the anniversary of the 1921 truce, had already been a special Army holiday before being the base date for the National Day of Commemoration.

Establishment:

In 1974, the coalition government proposed Saint Patrick's Day as a day for commemorating all Irish people who had given their lives in wars, marked with a message from the President, prayer and a moment of silence. The Fianna Fáil opposition objected. In the early 1980s, in response to the Northern Ireland Troubles, the Glencree Centre for Peace and Reconciliation in County Wicklow was organising "Walks of Remembrance" around sites in Dublin significant to all historical combatants. In 1983, the Irish Defence Forces were represented in the British Legion's Remembrance Sunday service in Saint Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin, under the flag of the United Nations. This was controversial and the Fianna Fáil opposition suggested a separate day of commemoration would be more inclusive.

An informal Oireachtas all-party committee was established in late 1984 to examine the question of a single National Day of Commemoration. It held four meetings and reported to the government in October 1985. The view of this Committee was that there should be a religious service and a military ceremony. This has been the tradition since, although Noel Treacy complained that the military presence was "on a small scale compared with that visualised by the all party committee".

The first National Day of Commemoration was held on 13 July 1986 in the Garden of Remembrance. Old IRA veterans objected to the venue, which commemorates those who died in "the cause of Irish freedom", being used to honour British Army veterans. The absence was noted of Leader of the Opposition, Charles Haughey, and Lord Mayor of Dublin, Bertie Ahern, both represented by subordinates. This was ascribed to discontent within Fianna Fáil about the event.

Haughey became Taoiseach after the February 1987 election. He announced the commemoration ceremony would be replaced by separate church services by the various denominations, with no military or government presence. The opposition parties objected, and both sides negotiated a compromise, whereby the ceremony, and the commemorative plaque which had been unveiled in 1986 by President Patrick Hillery, were moved to the Royal Hospital. This, originally a British Army hospital, is now the Irish Museum of Modern Art. However Irish Republicans and IRA veterans of the Irish War of Independence objected to the presence of the British Legion at the ceremony. Subsequent ceremonies have not proved controversial.

Ceremonies:

One of the main recommendations made by the All-Party Oireachtas Committee was that the National Day of Commemoration should be organised in a way which would reflect its national importance, which would encourage people of different traditions to participate and which would attract the interest and support of the public. The current service and ceremonies closely follow these recommendations.

The military and religious ceremonies are held in the presence of the President, the Taoiseach and other members of the Government of Ireland, members of the Oireachtas, the Council of State, the Diplomatic Corps, the Judiciary, relatives of 1916 leaders, next-of-kin of those who died on service with the UN, Northern Ireland representatives and a wide cross-section of the community, including ex-servicemen and ex-servicewomen.

Representatives of the three divisions of the Defence Forces parade and render military honours. Since its inception, music has been provided by the combined bands of the several Army Commands and Dr. Bernadette Greevy.

The ceremonies begin with an interfaith service, comprising prayers, hymns and readings by senior representatives of the main Christian denominations and of the Jewish and (since 1994) Islamic faiths.

The military ceremonies include an honour guard of the Cadet School, the laying of a wreath by the President on behalf of the people of Ireland, Reveille, the raising of the national flag and the playing of the National Anthem.