Somme centenary: Catholic archbishop gets warm welcome at Ulster Tower

Archbishop Eamon Martin meets Ernie Black at the Ulster Memorial Tower, Thiepval, on the 100th anniversary of the start of the Battle of the Somme. Picture: Ben Lowry

Archbishop Eamon Martin meets Ernie Black at the Ulster Memorial Tower, Thiepval, on the 100th anniversary of the start of the Battle of the Somme. Picture: Ben Lowry

The head of the Catholic Church in Ireland has spoken of the warm welcome that he received on Friday at the Ulster Memorial Tower.

“To be here today – that is an honour for me,” Achbishop Eamon Martin said of his second visit to the venue.

Archbishop Eamon Martin and Ernie Black at the Ulster Memorial Tower, Thiepval. Picture: Ben Lowry

Archbishop Eamon Martin and Ernie Black at the Ulster Memorial Tower, Thiepval. Picture: Ben Lowry

“This was the centenary year for the 1916 Rising and also the Somme. I got that it was important that I was here because it is clear to me that this tower runs very deep into the minds and hearts of many families in Ulster.”

He added: “I have received a very positive welcome here from people who would not be of my tradition.”

As Archbishop Martin was explaining to the News Letter how someone had just come up to him and said it “meant a lot to me that you are here” yet another man came up to him.

“Good to see you here,” said Ernie Black, introducing himself by offering his hand to the Archbishop of Armagh.

“People get an example today that will have a long reach into the future,” Mr Black added.

Wearing a Somme Association blazer, Mr Black went on to explain that he was speaking as someone who had been shot by the IRA, but said that he always emphasised that he had been shot “by the IRA – not by Catholics”.

Archbishop Martin said: “After 100 years, we are beginning to open up our minds a little. There is a shared narrative.

“Many Irish Catholics fought and died here.”

During the service, the archbishop read from John 15, verses 7-14.

The address was given by the Most Revd Dr Richard Clarke, Archbishop of Armagh, while the President of the Methodist Church in Ireland Rev Bill Mullally gave a call to worship and the Presbyterian Moderator Rt Rev Dr Frank Sellar led the prayer.