CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY
Minister Flanagan’s ANZAC Day Speech
It is truly a pleasure to have been asked to join you here today on ANZAC Day the day on which we recall the many who served in the Armed Forces of Australia and New Zealand during the First World War, and a particularly important one for those from Australia and New Zealand who have made Ireland their home.
Remembering is important. During the recent years of the ongoing Decade of Centenaries, we have become increasingly familiar with the stories of the many Irish men and women of this island who took an active part in the First World War, and how the events of those years of conflict deeply affected both those who served and also the civilian population at home.
ANZAC Day, of course, also marks in particular the anniversary of the day on which Australia and New Zealand’s soldiers landed at Gallipoli in 1915. It was in fact my great honour to be present in Gallipoli four years ago to mark the centenary of that terrible battle and remember the Irish soldiers who fought there, both alongside the Australian Imperial Force and also among its ranks.
And they did not fight just at Gallipoli. Today provides us with an important opportunity to remember all those Irishmen and women in Australia, both Irish-born and members of the diaspora, who are no less a part of that story and whose lives were also indelibly touched by the First World War.
But there is one in particular I want to talk about.
Martin O’Meara was one of an estimated 6,600 Irish men and women who served with the Australian Imperial Force during World War One.
From Tipperary, Martin was born in 1885. It’s thought that he was about 26 when he headed off to Australia, and 30 when he enlisted in the Australian forces. That was in 1915. In 1916, he arrived in France, where, in August of that year, he was involved in the Battle of Pozières.
It was for his bravery during that battle that he was ultimately to be awarded the Victoria Cross.
Not really for acts of direct military combat, but rather for having selflessly run the gauntlet of heavy machine gun fire and artillery bombardment to save the lives of more than 25 of his wounded comrades.
He was clearly a man of immense personal courage. Because he ran that gauntlet not just in one single episode, but repeatedly over the course of four consecutive days. The Commanding Officer of his unit, Lieutenant Colonel Brockman, recorded how O’Meara “continued to venture out into no-man’s land after his company had been relieved, delivering first aid to the wounded, digging out soldiers who had been buried by high explosive shells, and carrying the wounded back to the dressing station.”
While he was able to save the lives of many comrades, O’Meara was himself wounded three times over the course of the war, and, tragically, fell victim to severe Post Traumatic Stress almost immediately upon his return to Australia in 1918.
He was never able to escape the horrors he had witnessed in those years of war, living out the remainder of his life at a psychiatric hospital in Perth until his death there in 1935. These final years of his life are a stark reminder of the grave and tragic costs of war.
Of course honours such as the Victoria Cross are awarded in an attempt to recognise the levels of gallantry which can co-exist along with those grave and tragic costs, and not it is not surprising that Martin O’Meara was awarded it. He was actually one of more than 40 Irish soldiers, sailors, and airmen who were so recognised during the First World War, and in whose honour, during these centenary years, we have erected plaques across the island. The one in his honour was actually unveiled here in Dublin at Glasnevin Cemetery in 2016, while he is also remembered by monuments in his home community of Lorrha, County Tipperary.
But today, we are announcing another very significant gesture to mark the contribution of this very remarkable man.
102 years after Sergeant O’Meara last came to these shores, visiting his family in Lorrha, it is an honour to be able to announce that later this year, his Victoria Cross will be brought from The Australian Army Museum of Western Australia to be displayed during a 12-month loan to the National Museum of Ireland. This is a highly significant and generous gesture, and marks the first occasion that a Victoria Cross owned by the Australian Government has been allowed to leave Australia.
The presence of this medal at our National Museum will offer an important opportunity to highlight the depth of the historical links between our two peoples and to remember those Irish and Australian men and women, like Martin O’Meara, who performed such remarkable acts of bravery during that tragic conflict, more than 100 years ago.
So on behalf of the Irish Government, I would like to express my thanks to all those who have helped make this happen. In particular Ambassador Andrews and Lynn Scarff. I know the medal is due to arrive here in Collins Barracks, in July, and I hope, and in fact believe, that it will prove an inspiration to those who visit the Soldiers and Chiefs Exhibition over the 12 months.