Tuesday, November 11, 2008


I never thought I'd see the day when I'd wear a poppy.

I was brought up on an attitude that is totally incomprehensible to the population of the island of Britain: that the poppy is a potent current political symbol and not simply a record of a contribution to a benevolent ex-service persons' fund.

I was all hyped up to refuse a poppy from an armed British soldier on the Strabane/Lifford bridge in the 1970s. Fortunately he didn't make the offer. Probably saw the southern registration on the car.

I recently started tracing my family history and discovered the full story behind my uncle John's death on the Somme in September 1916. He lost his life in an ill-advised offensive, which, while it succeeded, involved an enormous and unecessary loss of life. The local commander was subsequently scapegoated for an operation he advised against. His judgment was not vindicated until seven years after his death. A complete SNAFU.

So, this year, I decided to wear a poppy, for two reasons. To commemorate my uncle and to reclaim this potent symbol from the Northern Unionists who had politicised it down the years.

Funny enough, my first problem was to find a poppy in Dublin. I eventually tracked down a source to the British Legion in South Frederick Street. Protestant friends have since told me that they are available in some Protestant churches. This is an interesting comment in itself on the current state of Irish society.

Then came the act of wearing it. I have to admit I was very uncomfortable wearing a poppy. I felt very acutely the "fault lines" in my ancestry. My attitude was very self-consciously defensive.

The experience was, neveretheless, an interesting one. I experienced no hostility. Quite the contrary, many of the people who raised the issue with me were completely in sympathy with the statement I was making. Some of them even said they wished they had the courage to wear one themselves.

If Mary McAleese can bring the WWI dead, and the survivors, down from the attic into the light of day, then this is clearly a cause worth supporting.

Jack Charlton reclaimed the tricolour from the Provos. Let us reclaim the poppy from those who politicised it.

No, I do not support the war in Iraq. Yes, I abhor the excesses of the British Army in Northern Ireland. But I'm damned if I am going to dump this guilt posthumously on my uncle.

For a sane view see Canon Comerford. And for background see Wiki


  1. "Some of them even said they wished they had the courage to wear one themselves."

    Well done. Wasn't sure what reaction you'd get but sounds good all round.

  2. Thanks tema. Neither did I.

    It's a cause for optimism that people are prepared to be up front on this whatever their views.

    There was a very emotional discussion on RTE Radio 1 on Sunday which was also good.

    Time to turn on the light.

  3. Bit cheeky of a British soldier to be selling poppies on the bridge to Lifford - kind of undermining the whole point of it (though maybe he didn't see it that way).

    The whole reclaiming thing sounds good to me. But I would wonder whether the money involved should be going to local veterans - rather than elsewhere. Unless the British Legion could come up with some sharing arrangement. It would be a shame if local vets were overlooked.

  4. @blackwatertown

    I heard a radio interview with a lady from the (Southern Irish) British Legion the other day. She said that the poppy money collected within the State stays within the State.

    Don't know the position in the North.

    Thanks for the comment.

    I did find that British soldier anomalous. He seemed to be stitching in the Unionist hijack, whether he realised it or not.

  5. @blackwatertown

    It just strikes me that the soldier could have been described as having a rifle in one hand and a poppy can in the other.

    Ring any bells?

    Anyway, Gerry Adams is now going to run for the Dáil. So that's a ballot paper in one hand at least.