Since beginning in Scotland’s breathtakingly beautiful Outer Hebrides almost exactly three years ago - at the Isle of Scalpay’s 200-year-old Eilean Glas Lighthouse - around 80 different stories have featured on these pages.

And as Fermanagh’s past is uniquely interwoven with war and Enniskillen is internationally renowned for its two historic regiments, it’s not surprising that the narrative has occasionally embraced WWI and WWII!

A trio of closely-related and enormously poignant WWII anniversaries are almost upon us.

Almost exactly 75 years ago on the 14th May 1944 some 700 US soldiers knelt at the unveiling of a tranquil shrine in the Graan Monastery on the Derrygonnelly Road; the Supreme Commander and future American President General Dwight D. ‘Ike’ Eisenhower visited his troops here on the 18th May 1944 and the 6th June is the 75th anniversary of D-Day, regarded as ‘the beginning of the end of the Second World War’.

Enniskillen and Fermanagh played a vital role in D-Day.

Many thousands of US soldiers were stationed here for training in the run up to the Normandy landings.

Along with the thousands of Ulster folk who signed up and the vital, on-going, local war-production, over 300,000 American GI’s passed through Northern Ireland during WWII, peaking at 120,000 prior to D-Day.

It’s said that between 1939 and 1945 approximately one in four of Fermanagh’s population was American military personnel, meaning that there were about two GIs for every farm in the county, or alternatively, one per registered household!

They trained on the highways and byways, on the drumlins and in the ditches, and overwhelmingly they said that they enjoyed their time in Fermanagh and greatly appreciated our local friendship and generosity.

Several years ago a former GI Elmer Sellers told his local paper in the USA “the war is now a distant memory but one thing I will never forget is the kindness the people of Enniskillen showed me. That will always be a cherished memory.”

A special D-Day commemorative event will be held at Enniskillen Model School on Thursday 6th June marking the 75th anniversary as the school had a close association with US Forces during WWII - numerous GIs were stationed ‘next door’ at Celtic Park and Brendrum, visited by General Eisenhower in 1944.

Their military camp was a ‘children’s paradise’ with US soldiers handing out colourful American comics, tasty chocolate, chewing gum, doughnuts and ice-cream.

Former Model School pupil Flight Lieutenant Bill Eames will be one of the special guests at the commemorations together with several other Second World War veterans and their families.

Bill had the distinction of piloting one of the planes which towed a glider packed with soldiers into Normandy on the morning of D-Day.

Some airmen didn’t live to recount their heroism.

The 700 US soldiers who knelt at the shrine in the Graan Monastery on the 14th May 1944 were mourning the tragic loss the previous year of seven young colleagues in a terrible plane crash.

A sombre cavalcade of military trucks delivered the grieving GIs from 20 bases across County Fermanagh to Our Lady’s Bower in St Gabriel’s Retreat in the Graan where a memorial High Mass marked the dedication of the grotto to the seven young airmen.

Five fliers survived, mainly due to the bravery of the priests from The Graan who rescued them.

The doomed Flying Fortress B17 christened ‘The Galley Uncle’ plunged into a field beside the monastery on 9th December 1943 just as prayers were beginning for the Feast Day of Our Lady of Loretto.

The official accident report, based on radio communications and wreckage inspection, concluded with uncertainty “Forced landing. Ran out of gas. Cause undetermined.”

The American servicemen who attended the special Mass made a substantial donation for the erection of a white marble statue in the tree-shadowed bower, and a plaque was inscribed ‘In Memoriam to Our Fallen Comrades, 14th May 1944.’

After their heroic rescue mission the Graan’s Fathers and the local American military personnel became closely linked by tragedy, and on the 14th May 1944 (just 4 days before General Eisenhower’s visit to Enniskillen) the grotto was dedicated in memory of the dead airmen, with a beautiful statue donated by the GIs.

There’s a busy programme of events at the Model School’s D-Day Commemorations on 6th June where the playground will be transformed into US Camp Celtic Park once again!

Amongst the special VIP guests will be the Polish and US Consul Generals who’ll share their countries’ wartime history with visitors to the commemorations.

The Ulster Aviation Society’s replica Spitfire will be there, along with vintage WWII jeeps, an outdoor assault course and displays from the Wartime Living History Association.

WWII history will come to life with the event open to the public from 3-5pm and entrance free-of-charge.