Each year during the 7th June people from all parts of the island of Ireland and from all walks of life, gather in the Flanders region of Belgium for the "Island of Ireland Week" to participate in events to commemorate the sacrifices that were made by the men and women of that island during The Great War, 1914-1918. A week of events is organised by the International School for Peace Studies, which attracts visitors from Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland and Europe.
Primarily, a parade is made through Messines to a Commemoration Service held in the Island of Ireland Peace Park, and another parade through Ypres to a Service of Remembrance held at the Menin Gate Memorial.
Many also attend our annual Peace Conference usually held on 8th June, whilst also participating in the many tours and site visits on offer.
However in recent years the annual commemoration 'Island of Ireland' week was held in Londonderry. The Londonderry man responsible for the commemoration and for setting up the International School for Peace Studies in Belgium, Glen Barrr said: "It's all very fine parading and socialising in Belgium and France but it is on the streets of the towns and cities of this island that we must display our appreciation for those who fought and died together in foreign battlefields and through their sacrifice learn to co-exit on this island."
For years, during events in Messines - where the International School for Peace Studies is based - the Irish flag has flown alongside the United Kingdom flag and the banners of other nations, who fought in WWI. The Battle of Messines is central to the ethos of the ISPS, because nationalists of the 16th Irish Division and unionists of the 36th Ulster Division fought side by side.
In an invitational letter Mr Barr stated: "To this end, in 2009 ISPS organised a Commemoration Parade on 7th June in Londonderry-Derry. Indeed Londonderry-Derry will remain host of the event for 2010 over the weekend of Friday 4th - 6th June 2010. The Burgomester, Chief Executive and four representatives from the Belgian city of Messines have accepted an invitation to attend the weekend of events, which will include a programme on the Friday evening, when the Waterside Theatre will show the play, 'We Were Brothers' especially written about the Battle of Messines. (Now nominated for a highly prestigious Meyer Whitworth award!)
"As is customs in Messines an Official Colour Party of the flags representing those nationalities that were engaged in the preparation and battle of Mesen/Messines will be carried at the Cenotaph. The flags are the Australian, Belgium, Canadian, German, New Zealand, Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom. Whilst historians will argue that there was no Irish Tricolour at the time of the battle we at the I.S.P.S. believe that it is in the spirit of brotherhood and recognition of Irish Nationalists who died alongside their colleagues of the 36th Ulster Division that the flag they would have regarded as their national flag should be carried in their memory"