A month-long exhibition, commemorating the sacrifice of over 70 young men from the city in the Dardanelles Campaign on the Gallipoli Peninsula in Turkey, has opened in the Chapter House at St Columb’s Cathedral.
“Welcoming the guests and visitors to the Cathedral for the launch on Wednesday night, the Dean of Derry, Very Rev Dr William Morton, paid tribute to all those involved in its creation, and particularly thanked the families who had donated items for exhibiting.
He also spoke with pride of how the Cathedral in recent years had developed into a public space for a range of exhibitions and shows.
“Yesterday afternoon a number of clergy in the Derry Diocese were speaking with an English Vicar who had come over for the day as the Bishop had held a meeting. In the course of the meeting the Bishop asked a question of the visiting priest from England: ‘What is your first impression of church life in Northern Ireland?’ The vicar said: ‘Well can I answer your question with a question? Why are all the churches locked?’
“I think it was only then that it was brought home to the clergy who were there that churches are sometimes only used on Sundays. I am delighted to say, not in a boastful way, and said it at the meeting, that St Columb’s Cathedral is a building which, like very few other buildings apart from the Altnagelvin Hospital or hospitals in general, is open every day of the year and we are delighted to see the Cathedral used to this degree.
“The Cathedral exists primarily for the glory of God and services are offered in worship of Almighty God, but in these years, particularly since the total conservation of the Cathedral, which finished in 2011, we have been aiming here to greatly diversify the purposes to which the Cathedral is put. Notably that we use the building in addition to the services, for guided tours, for recitals, for exhibitions, for lectures and we even had a seminar for lighting engineers here a number of years ago.
“So, the buildings is being put to an ever-increasing number of purposes and we are delighted once again to be in the Chapter House for a continuation of the emphasis on the First World War.
“You will be familiar, of course with the fact that last autumn we had a very extensive exhibition here marking the Centenary of the outbreak of the First World War and here, now, we are continuing with the 100 year anniversary focus upon the Gallipoli Landings.
“This is a wonderful exhibition, which has been procured by Ian Bartlett, who has done a superb job with the assistance of Richard Doherty and Tim Webster and we are delighted to have them with us here this afternoon and we are eternally grateful to Ian, Richard and Tim for their tremendous efforts to make this exhibition absolutely wonderful.
“It is made very special by the marvellous contributions so graciously and generously given by families whose forbearers died in the war. Amazing phenomenons happen. We have a number of families, the McSparron family, for example, some of whose relatives are here, from which three members of the family fought in Gallipoli. Photographs are there. Their medals are there and the exhibition has meant that memorabilia has come together from three different locations, I understand and it has now been brought together. So there has been a sort of galvanising of the desire of and recognition that war is such a loss, that it is a human tragedy and that we should be united to ensure that it never happens again. So, it is a wonderful coming together of all the different memorabilia for this, including an order of service from 1915, a service which was held here in the Cathedral. One or two have remarked on that and on some of the hymns that were sung.
“I would like to say how grateful I am personally, and on behalf of all of us here in the Cathedral and the Friends of the Cathedral especially, for the tremendous amount of input there has been from Ian, Richard and Tim and for the marvellous exhibits for the purpose of the exhibition from the families concerned. There is something very moving about the photographs and medals and, I think, especially the letters and the emotion and the love which they contain. The humanity oozes out of the memorabilia which we have here.”
Local military historian Richard Doherty, who wrote the wording for the display stands and for a commemorative booklet specially for the exhibition also spoke at the launch of the exhibition.
“Only a few weeks ago the Australians and the New Zealanders marked a very poignant Centenary, the opening of the Battle of Gallipoli on April 25, 1915, the date that has become the Nation Founding date in both Australia and New Zealand and also to a very large extent in Turkey.
“Last October, when Donegal County Council ran an exhibition they invited a representative of the New Zealand Embassy in Ireland to attend and speak at the opening.
“He made a revealing comment, that, of all the New Zealand dead in the First World War there were more whose place of birth was the island of Ireland rather than of the islands of New Zealand. So, it is also something that is very pertinent to us as well and you can see here the very close connection to the north west and particularly with this city and this Cathedral with the memory of those who fell at Gallipoli, who are remembered to this day.”
Mr Doherty went on to highlight a few of those who died in the Battle of Gallipoli with strong connections to the city, before commenting that those who died in Gallipoli did so in a place redolent with history.
“History in Gallipoli goes back into the age of mythology. It is the area of the ‘wine dark sea’ of the Iliad and the Odyssey; it is the area where Ulysses, Helen and Troy all fought and all lived. It is an area that is part and parcel of the cradle of western civilisation.”