The sky over Davitt’s Quay in Dungarvan was of a decidedly sullen hue on Sunday afternoon.
A handful of anglers stood by the water’s edge; the Cunnigar’s sandy protruding head mounding just a matter of yards from where they stood, their black silhouettes so vivid on so grey a day.
Theirs were not the silhouettes that burned into my memory that evening as I reflected on the dignified, moving and long-overdue recognition of our city and county’s World War I dead.
Of those 1100, half have no known final place of rest, physically obliterated from history due to the brutal manner of their passings in the fields of Belgium and France, in the Middle East and at sea.
In those tumultuous times of just under a century ago, in an Ireland which desired Home Rule, which subsequently manifested itself into a desire for independence, those Irishmen who fought in World War I did not come to heroic welcome. Anything but.
In the minds of those who didn’t subscribe to Irish Parliamentary Party leader and Waterford MP John Redmond’s view that fighting under a common banner could unite all Irishmen through common purpose, such men were traitors. And such men were spat at when they came home.
But they returned to much more than just unwelcome spittle. They came home to face ostracisation, and were, as far as many bosses were concerned, unemployable given the banner they’d taken up arms under.
The irony that these men could not get a job when for many the only way to secure work previously, to ensure a roof over their family’s heads was to wear a British uniform and fight, could not have been lost on them in old age.
But the comfort that hindsight provides cannot conceal the complexity of the politics of the era on that island.