The Lurgan War Memorial
A war memorial is a building, monument, statue or other edifice to celebrate a war or victory, or (predominating in modern times) to commemorate those who died or were injured in war. During the First World War, many nations saw massive devastation and loss of life. In response, most cities in the countries involved in the conflict erected memorials, and the memorials in smaller villages and towns often listed the names of each local soldier who had been killed. Massive monuments commemorating thousands of dead with no identified war grave were also constructed. In many cases, the World War I memorials were later extended to show the names of locals who died in the Second World War.
Lurgan war memorial is located at Church Place, in Market Street. The Coalbrookedale Fountain originally occupied this position. This cast-iron fountain was originally erected in 1888 to celebrate Queen Victoria’s Jubilee but was moved to Lurgan Public Park in the mid 1920’s to make way for the war memorial. The war memorial measures 25 feet, 9 inches (8.25m) in total height. It was constructed of granite stone. The Primary stone type being Grey Aberdeen Granite, the Secondary stone type being Polished Red Granite. The memorial is paved with a marble interior. The only other building constructed with this type of stone is the war memorial at Queens University, Belfast. The monument at Queens University was designed by Sir Thomas Brock and constructed in 1924. It is described as, a tall classical style granite pedestal with bronze statue of an angel and soldier on top. The Lurgan war memorial is in the form of a hexagonal temple, with the hexagonal shaft bearing the inscriptions of the 300+ war dead, surmounted by a life-size bronze winged figure representing the spirit of Victorious Peace alighting on the earth. Her head is crowned with bays and her right hand is holding a palm branch, while the left is extended in token of blessing. The bay leaves and palms relate to Classical Greek and Roman tradition. Bay leaves were used to mark victory, whilst palms were used in the ancient world as a symbol of resolution overcoming calamity. There is, too, a Christian link, with Palm Sunday, and the use of palm fronds to mark Christ’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem. As with war memorials, here you can find art, history, Classical Symbolism and Christian tradition all combined.
In Lurgan, there was a difference of opinion of what the war memorial should be. In 1919, the Lurgan Technical School management committee proposed building a new technical school as a memorial. The Irish Federation of Discharged and Demobilized Sailors and Soldiers, an ex-service organization which existed before the formation of the British Legion, suggested a public swimming pool; whilst another suggestion was to build a cottage hospital.
It was announced, after a public meeting in April 1919, the war memorial would be a monument in the main street. A war memorial committee was formed to raise the required sum of £3,000. In May 1921 the scheme ground to a halt, it was announced that subscriptions were being returned ‘owing to a lack of agreement’ on the design the memorial should take. In 1923, the question of a war memorial in Lurgan was revived at a public meeting, and it was decided to try again. The embarrassment that Lurgan had not yet done anything to honour its dead, nor had any plans to build one played a part in the eventual construction of the memorial. Also a majority of local opinion had now swung behind the idea of a symbolic monument.
Over the next twelve months £2,300 was raised for the war memorial fund. Leonard Stanford Merrifield (b.1880, d.1943), a sculptor from London was appointed to design the monument. Merrifield came up with the idea of a small ‘temple’, which would be surmounted with a life-sized figure of a soldier. The temple was to be hexagonal (six-sided) and contain a central pillar on which would be inscribed the names of the fallen. This idea of a soldier was rejected by the war memorial committee who asked for a ‘winged figure of Victory’. Merrifield obliged and designed a female figure, with a crown of bays, holding aloft a palm frond in her right hand. The war committee saw the figure as to peaceable and asked Merrifield if he would put a sword in her right hand, with a circular laurel wreath in her left. Merrifield refused and stuck with Victory as he had originally envisaged. The war memorial was built by Robert Lynn (b.1886, d.1928), an architect from Belfast and Lurgan, who was the son of Samuel A. Lynn, High Street Lurgan.
There were debates over the inscription on the memorial but the final wording was settled as:
IN GRATEFUL MEMORY OF THE MEN OF LURGAN AND DISTRICT WHO GAVE THEIR LIVES IN THE GREAT WAR 1914-1918
THEIR NAME LIVETH FOR EVERMORE
In keeping with democratic ideas of equal treatment, it was decided to list the names of the fallen in strict alphabetical order, without either rank or regiment. In the newly established Northern Ireland, commemoration and remembrance ceremonies became quite distinctly Protestant and Unionist. However, in Lurgan, a special effort was made to ensure the names of Catholics were included on the memorial.
The war memorial was unveiled on 23rd May 1928; the dedication was performed by James Albert Edward Hamilton, the 3rd Duke of Abercorn, Governor of Northern Ireland. The Prayer of Dedication was said by Rev. A. Gibson as follows:-
To the Glory of God, in the faith of Jesus Christ, and in memory of those of this town of Lurgan and district who fell in the Great War, we dedicated this Memorial in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
Before the unveiling there was a Church Parade of the Catholic Ex-servicemen, numbering 160, who attended St Peter’s Church, were Requiem Mass was celebrated and afterwards, preceded to the place of assembly in Lurgan Park. There they formed up with other ex-servicemen making a total of upwards of 700 men to march to the memorial where the massed choirs, numbering some 250 voices were already in position. In November 1924, a ‘magnificent marble altar rail’ was erected in St. Peter’s parish church by Lurgan Catholic ex-servicemen ‘in memory of their fallen comrades’.
There are two plaques at the war memorial to commemorate the 82 men from Lurgan who died in World War II. The dedication ceremony took place on 10th November 1957.