One of the highlights of the Irish Brigade web site co founders, Richard and Edmund O’Sullivan recent visit to Sicily, was their attendance at a commemorative ceremony and conference in Piedimonte Etneo on the north eastern slopes of Mount Etna.
For 33 days, from 8th September to 11th October 1943, the people of Piedimonte Etneo hosted hundreds of men from the 1st Battalion, London Irish Rifles (LIR) after fighting had ended on the island and the period was marked by a very friendly atmosphere in the town and 1 LIR’s own war diaries had commented on how “comfortable” their men had felt throughout their stay.
Seven one years later, at the end of July 2014, the town arranged a memorable series of events to mark both the stay of the LIR and also provide an opportunity to share and treasure the memories of their townspeople, who still vividly remember that period of desperate struggle.
To mark the occasion, the Municipality of Piedimonte Etneo conferred Honorary Citzenship on the men of the London Irish Rifles in commemoration of both their 1st Battalion, who fought with the 50th Infantry Division in Sicily, and their 2nd Battalion, who were, of course, with the Irish Brigade within 78th Division.
After speeches of commendation from their President, Dr Alfio Palazzolo, and two Council Representatives, the Town Council of Piedimonte Etneo voted unanimously to confer the award on the LIR Association’s President, Major General Corran Purdon, and Chairman, Major Peter Lough. The Mayor of Piedimonte Etneo, Dr Ignazio Puglisi, then presented a Scroll of Citizenship to Richard O’Sullivan, who was representing the LIR Association at the event.
Following this ceremony, a short Service of Remembrance was held at the town’s Memorial, near the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Rosary.
During 1943, twenty five citizens of Piedimonte and nearly ninety London Irishmen were killed during the short but bitterly fought campaign in Sicily and we were able to spend some moments of quiet contemplation in their memory.
The day’s events were not yet complete as later, there was a marvellous evening conference reviewing the whole period of conflict on the island with particular emphasis on its effect on the local community. This included hearing first hand accounts from many of the town’s citizens, a number of whom were present at the conference. A most moving and entertaining series of presentations was brilliantly curated by Rosario Raciti and Dr Felice Vito Vitale and the conference ably moderated by Giuseppe Pagano. Throughout a quite remarkably moving day, we were assisted by the translation and interpreting services of local resident, Louise Abraham, to whom we would like to gratefully give thanks.
This didn’t mark the conclusion of the town’s appetite for hospitality as during the next day, we were honoured to be able to visit one of the town houses where the London Irish Rifles had been posted in August 1943 – memories of the playing of the Irish Pipers, in particular, is still fondly remembered in Piedimonte Etneo.
It was indeed a quite remarkable desirable residence with a quite remarkable view of Etna..
We can only conclude by extending our thanks to the people of Piedimonte Etneo for the most wonderful and hospitality we received during our stay and we plan to return to Sicily in the near future.