Wars have been a catastrophe for every generation and the “rise of the bellicose language of militarism must end”, President Michael D Higgins has said.
Speaking on Saturday at East Mountain in Howth, Co Dublin, where he formally unveiled the restored “Eire 6” sign, which he said proclaimed Irish neutrality in the Second World War, Mr Higgins said: “I think there is a special role for people and countries that embrace neutrality to be active in making the case for diplomacy to the very end. ”
Referring to the war in Ukraine, Mr Higgins paid tribute to “the brave Ukrainian people who are struggling to defend their homes and their people”.
He said it had been “unthinkable” to many “that Europe could find itself once again embroiled in war again in the 21st century”.
“A great sense of darkness has fallen across the world with the unfolding tragedy in Ukraine,” he said. He said the darkness had “resulted from the invasion by its [Ukraine’s] powerful neighbor [Russia] operating with total disregard for the principles of international law ”.
The President said that “we must always exert all our efforts to avoid war and armed conflict and we must relentlessly pursue a diplomatic approach and particularly involving the multilateral institutions, if we are to avoid bloodshed”.
He told a crowd of several hundred, including Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien, TDs Richard Bruton and Seán Haughey, and actor Brendan Gleeson: “We must seize every glimmer of hope for diplomacy to demand and seek access to civilians in need.”
Mr Higgins said that “these times are a time when diplomacy is tested”.
Thanking the local Howth Eire 6 Restoration Group for restoring the Eire 6 sign carefully and in line with the rules surrounding Howth Head’s “important” ecological protections, Mr Higgins said the sign would serve as a reminder to all of the wars in Europe.
Noting the sign would be visible to aircraft landing in Dublin, he said it was “an act of positive neutrality” and served “as a reminder of the horrors of war, unnecessary destruction and waste of human potential”.
“So let us exert all our collective efforts to bring an end to the war in Ukraine so that we can return to living in a Europe and in a world that is free from war,” he said.
Mr Higgins said Irish citizens valued peace and understood the “misery of war”.
The Eire 6 sign was one of 83 such signs, made up of stone, that were put in place around the State’s coast during the Second World War to alert aircraft crews to the fact that they were in Irish airspace, the airspace of a neutral country .
Also speaking at the ceremony on Saturday, historian Dr Michael Kennedy said the signs, being numbered, were of significant navigational aid to US planes coming across the Atlantic and of use to British planes heading for Northern Ireland.
The Eire 6 sign had been located a few hundred yards from the Howth Look Out Post that was occupied during World War II by members of the Defense Forces’ Coast Watching Service. However, the sign became overrun by vegetation following the Second World War and was not rediscovered until a gorse fire in the early 1980s.
Similar signs, including Eire 7 at Dalkey on the other side of the bay, have been uncovered and restored in recent years.
After Mr Higgins’s address, the air force staged a flypast as a flotilla including the RNLI and Coast Guard tooted their horns.