Leaders and veterans set for Somme ceremony

Soldiers at the Battle of the Somme
Soldiers at the Battle of the Somme

Political leaders and military veterans are due to gather in Dublin today to commemorate the Battle of the Somme.

The event at the Irish National War Memorial Gardens, Islandbridge, has been organised by the Irish government and Royal British Legion to remember the 3,500 soldiers from north and south of the Irish border who were killed during one of the bloodiest battles of the First World War.

Irish President Michael D Higgins, Taoiseach Enda Kenny, Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers and Stormont Speaker Robin Newton will be among the invited dignitaries at the wreath-laying ceremony.

Members of the Council of State, diplomatic corps, judiciary, elected representatives and ambassadors from countries which fought at the Somme will also be in attendance.

Theresa Villiers has already praised the bravery of Irish soldiers in a pre-ceremony statement.

Last week thousands of people including members of the Royal family, heads of state, church leaders and the relatives of fallen soldiers flocked to northern France for a service of remembrance marking 100 years since the start of the five-month battle which claimed a million lives.

Almost 20,000 died within hours of leaving their trenches on July 1, 1916.

Army generals had hoped the battle would be short and produce a pivotal victory for Britain and France over Germany but the gains were negligible and the fighting waged on until November.

Some of the heaviest losses were suffered by the 36th Ulster Division, whose attack near the village of Thiepval was successful but the territory gained could not be held.

The outdoor ceremony is expected to start at about midday.