Somme Center Honors War Heroes

Reed Travel Features

NEWTOWNARDS, Northern Ireland -- The Somme Heritage Center here tells the story of the more than 250,000 Irish men and women who served their country in the armed forces and in factories during World War I.

There is a strong focus at the center on the Battle of the Somme in France and on how Protestants, Catholics, Unionists and Nationalists ignored their differences and fought side-by-side for one purpose.

Visitors are taken through reconstructed trenches and experience events through the eyes of soldiers of the 36th Ulster Division as they fought the Battle of the Somme in 1916.

The division, which was formed largely from the Protestant and Unionist Ulster Volunteer Force, played a leading part in this battle and lost 5,500 men in the first two days of fighting.

The 16th Irish Division, which drew many recruits from the National Volunteers -- organized to fight for Irish self-government -- lost 4,000 men capturing the villages of Guillemont and Ginchy in the later stages of the Somme battle.

Guides and displays explain and re-create the experience of joining-up, training and life in the trenches during the the war.

The museum is open September through June, Tuesday to Sunday from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m.; during July and August, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday to Saturday; 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Sunday. Admission is about $6 per person; group rates are available.

The Somme Heritage Center, located about 30 minutes from Belfast, can be reached at (011) 44-124782-3202.

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