why i wear my poppy
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  Why I Wear the Poppy Speech to Literary & Historical Society, Dublin Wednesday 5 th  November 2014 Let me begin by sharing with you with why I wear a poppy. It's not because I'm a unionist. It's not to rejoice in imperialism. It's not to glorify war. Particularly in this centenary year, I wear a poppy to remember ... To remember Irishmen who left these shores, who fought and died in far-off fields between 1914 and 1918. Why they fought and died has been and continues to be a subject of intense debate amongst historians. It's a debate we will not solve here this evening. But fight and die they did, in circumstances that remain unimaginable for the vast majority of us. Let me quote from an Irishman who served in the First World War. Some 21 years after the conclusion of that war, as another war loomed over Europe, in September 1939, C.S. Lewis wrote: My memories of the last war haunted my dreams for years. Military service, to be plain, includes the threat of every temporal evil; pain and death, which is what we fear from sickness; isolation from those we love, which is what we fear from exile; toil under arbitrary masters which is what we fear from slavery: hunger, thirst, and exposure which is what we fear from poverty. I'm not a pacifist. If it's got to be it's got to be. But the flesh is weak and selfish, and I think death would be much better than to live through another war . That was the experience of those Irishmen who served in and survived the First World War. Then there were the approximately 35,000 who did not return. Let's put that figure into context. Over the three decades of the Troubles in Northern Ireland, over 3,000 people lost their lives. The grief, loss and heartache of the Troubles has had a profound impact on Northern Ireland. Now think of 35,000 dead in four short years. This is a part of our story as an Island. Those of whom we are talking came from the villages and townlands, the counties and cities that you and I know. Not to recognise, not to remember them, is to cut ourselves off from a painful but crucial part of the story of our Island over the last 100 years. The story of our   Island ... That is another aspect of the wearing of a poppy to remember 1914-1918. It unites. I'm a unionist, an Ulsterman, a Presbyterian. I wear a poppy remembering nationalists and Catholics from the four provinces of Ireland who served in the First World War. Of the 210,000 Irishmen who served in the War, over 50% were nationalist and Catholic. Their experience and their sacrifices vividly remind us that the poppy and what it commemorates is as much part of the story of nationalism on this island as it is of unionism. Of course, unionist and nationalist had differing motivations for serving in the First World War ... But they had a shared experience.  At the beginning of a century of division on this Island ... Unionist and nationalist shared a bitter and painful experience of service, sacrifice and loss. Thomas Kettle, the former Nationalist MP for East Tyrone, who served as a Lieutenant in the 9th Dublin Fusiliers and was killed during the Battle of the Somme, put it this way:  Used with the wisdom that is sown in tears and blood, this tragedy of Europe may be and must be the prologue to the two reconciliations of which all statesmen have dreamed, the reconciliation of Protestant Ulster with Ireland, and the reconciliation of Ireland with Great Britain . Over the past decade, successive governments and presidents in this State have shown tremendous leadership in grasping the hope held out to us in Kettle's words. The increased official recognition by the Government of Ireland of the service and sacrifice of Irish men in the First World War has significantly contributed to reconciliation on our Island. The wearing of a poppy identifies us with this. It tells of a story shared by unionist and nationalist, a story common to us as Irish men and women, north and south. Now, yes, the symbol of the poppy has been abused at times over the years. It has been identified with sectarian political agendas. But this happens to many symbols. It has, for example, happened to the flag of this State ... When it has been misused and abused as a symbol of sectarian terrorism in Northern Ireland. The answer to this, is not to abandon the symbol to those who would misuse it. The answer is to reclaim the symbol.  And that is what needs to happen with the poppy. It needs to be reclaimed for all on this Island, north and south, unionist and nationalist. The poppy tells of four painful years in our Island story. Years in which unionist and nationalist, side by side, participated in a conflict which engulfed our continent. Why should the poppy be worn? Because it is a part of what it means to share this Island and its story ... Because it represents Irish men, north and south.  A century on, it can be the symbol of the hope expressed by Thomas Kettle ...  A hope sown in tears and blood , unionist and nationalist.


Jul 23, 2017

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Jul 23, 2017
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