Taoiseach Leo Varadkar laid a green laurel wreath in Enniskillen, Fermanagh on Remembrance Sunday, the scene of one of the most vicious atrocities of The Troubles 30 years ago.
In 1987 a dozen people lost their lives at the same spot when the IRA exploded a bomb at the Remembrance commemoration.
Mr Varadkar, the first Taoiseach to wear a shamrock poppy at such an event, cited Irish nationalist MP Willie Redmond, a Major in the British Army, who died in Flanders in 1917.
He said Redmond had died fighting for the defence of small nations like Ireland and said of the Home Rule politician: “He said it would be a fine memorial to the men who died if we could, over their graves, build up a bridge between north and south.”
Mr Varadkar said he looked forward to the day when the poppy could lay “side by side” with the Irish shamrock and the lily worn by nationalists to commemorate the Easter Rising.
“I am a strong believer that history is something we should understand and remember. History should be our guide, we should never allow it to be our prisoner.
“The dream that I have for an Ireland, is an Ireland in the future where the poppy, the shamrock and the lily can lie side by side.
“I think it is good to have those kind of dreams.”
Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire, DUP leader Arlene Foster and Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) Chief Constable George Hamilton all laid floral wreaths of remembrance at the monument to the fallen. The Inniskilling Fusiliers were based in Enniskillen and fought at Gallipoli peninsula in April 1915 and on the Western Front.
The celebrated war poet and Irish Nationalist Francis Ledwidge, one of the Inniskillings’ most famous soldiers, died at Passchendaele.
Mr Varadkar said of those Irishmen who fought and those who perished in WW1: “They came from all backgrounds, from the north and from the south, Catholic and Protestant, and fought for different reasons.
“Some fought for king and country, others fought for the sovereignty of small nations and for Catholic Belgium.”
Mr Varadkar’s predecessor as Taoiseach Enda Kenny made five consecutive visits to Enniskillen on Remembrance Sunday and, Mr Varadkar said, he had urged him to continue the tradition: “I can really understand why he did so.”
He said he had grown up with the names of Irish who had died in the First World War engraved on the wall of his school in Dublin and also on walls in his mother’s home town of Dungarvan in Waterford. T he Taoiseach said he wanted to remember and honour the people of Enniskillen’s response of forgiveness to that unimaginable atrocity of 1987.
The late Gordon Wilson, the father of 20-year-old-nurse Marie Wilson, who died from injuries suffered in the blast, captured headlines and imaginations when he said that he would pray for the bombers who took his daughter’s life.
Mr Wilson, who died in 1995, became a member of Seanad Eireann and a diligent advocate of the peace process. Mr Varadkar said of him: “In particular we remember those who answered that atrocity with forgiveness and led the way for so many of us into the future.”
DUP leader Arlene Foster welcomed the presence of Mr Varadkar: “This has now become a well-established tradition. The Taoiseach first came on the 25th anniversary of the Enniskillen bomb and I think it is lovely that that continues every year now and has come to be expected from people in Enniskillen.