Flower Power


When I was a boy living in Cushendun, every November a neighbour came round selling poppies to raise money for the British Legion. Each year my mother made a contribution and took a poppy. It was the sort of cross community exchange, though we didn’t think of it as such, that helped make the Glens of Antrim a welcoming place for everyone. There were limits however to the gesture. The poppy sat where it was placed. I don’t remember anyone ever wearing it. That’s not surprising. As far as I’m aware, no one in my family ever served in the Crown forces apart from a great-uncle who was a member of the RIC. I don’t state that with pride or shame. It’s just a matter of fact.

Poppies didn’t impinge much on my life for several decades after until I started working for UTV. Even then as an off screen producer and editor, I wasn’t asked or expected to wear a poppy. If there ever had been a rule on emblems, by the time I started to appear in front of camera, reporters and presenters were left to choose whether to wear poppies or not.

That freedom left me with a bit of a dilemma. I could wear the emblem and alienate one section of the audience or not wear it and annoy another group. So with no personal or family reason for wearing a poppy and anxious not offend anyone, I tried to sidestep the problem by the simple ruse of trying, as far as possible, not to appear in vision on TV during periods when poppies were due to be worn.

That worked until one November just before I was due to do a live interview in studio, a colleague asked me if I realised that I was not wearing a poppy. At that point, for some reason, I looked up and caught sight several longstanding Protestant colleagues. And then my brain went into overdrive. Fundamentally I had nothing against this fund raising campaign even if I had some questions over whether poppies were about commemorating or glorifying war. But my instinct was to stick to my guns and pass on the poppy wearing and then for whatever reason, it just dawned on me that these workmates, that I could see out of the corner of my eye, would like me to make a concession. And so, not as a some grand gesture but simply because I wanted to oblige those who over decades had obliged me with small acts of generosity, I asked to be supplied with a poppy, versions of which I would continue to wear until I retired from the company

It was only later on reflection that I realised my change of heart had not come about through argument or debate. The silence of my colleagues had proved more eloquent and effective than anything, anyone might have said to me.

My experience is not in any way unique. In an article entitled: The power of the personal: what Ireland can teach politicians,(£) Financial Times columnist Gillian Tett analysed the way gay activists had so successfully conducted the movement down South for same-sex marriage. She said the campaigners did not focus on ideology or statistics. Instead they encouraged voters to think of people they knew personally who were gay and then ask themselves if these individuals deserved the same rights as everyone else. She quoted American anthropologist E Moore Quinn who said: “In Ireland, the campaign was all about a person, not a policy.”

The lessons from the South could usefully be applied here. Currently if unionists want something from nationalists or vice versa, the formula is: announce the demand by foghorn, gulder about tradition or rights or both and then get on to the phone in programmes to row about it.

It doesn’t work and will never work. What’s more the participants must know it’s not effective but they still keep on with the argy bargy. I don’t suggest a different approach would be easy but it might conceivably deliver some positive results.

This is not, by the way, to dismiss the importance of rights or tradition which would be ridiculous but since politics is the art of possible not the impossible, it surely would make sense to change tack and abandon the battering ram tactics.

Our politicians might find they will get further with a policy by inviting their opponents to view it through the eyes of a third party. It would be preferable if that individual was someone their adversaries had more time for. If they can’t bring themselves to do that, at the very least they should dispense with the political equivalent of the boxing ring trash talk which many of us find less than amusing even if it wins the headlines.


  • The worm!

    But with respect, it would do none of us any harm surely, to be reminded of the horrors of war. People get so virtuous and incensed now by mere words because we live such relatively pampered lives.

    My son leaves for Australia in just over a week, and both Mrs Worm and myself are starting to struggle a bit. But he’ll be away for six months and he’ll be working in glorious conditions on a golf course. Imagine he was going to war and most likely die in horrific gruesome circumstance. Were parents any less feeling then, what anguish must they not have had to suffer knowing what their children were going to?

    We should remember.

  • NotNowJohnny

    How would a neutral side in a war allow access to its ports to one side? Do you not think that would compromise its neutrality? No?

  • Roger

    There was nothing skillful. He toed the line. He wore his poppy.

  • Roger

    He toed the line. As nearly everyone seems to do on U.K. television during poppy season.

  • Roger

    Yes. Obviously people need to wear a red poppy to recognize past sacrifices. Why didn’t I think of that. They couldn’t possibly do anything else, now could they?

  • Roger

    It’s hardly about a red poppy either, is it?

    People should hold true to their own judgment of what they would like to wear. Others should respect that.

  • The worm!

    I agree entirely Mr Kinmont, it’s remit has become so all-encompassing that there’s probably something in there for just about anyone to disagree with. As a symbol of remembrance for the great wars (as I view it myself) it would be difficult to see how it could be divisive.

    How ironic also that the great beacon of all things liberal (the BBC) has probably played a greater part in the tainting of the poppy than just about anything else.

  • The worm!

    Take your blinkers off and read the article properly, plainly he did not!

  • NotNowJohnny

    He displayed it briefly and then immediately removed it. I very much doubt that removing ones’s poppy on live TV constitutes toeing the line. But I can see why you’d want to present it as such.

  • Jamie Delargy

    Not really, no. Sorry

  • Granni Trixie

    I assume many who think it is right to acknowlege those who died in the war,others who want to support the charity which helps soldiers in hard times and those who lend their support unthinkingly because it’s part of their cukture.

    which leads us yet again to ‘when is a war a just war’ and though I do not know enough about more historical wars or conflicts to judge, I am well placed to judge that the Provos were not engaged in a morally justified campaign of violence against fellow citizens.

  • Granni Trixie

    I most certainly do welcome them to the peace table. But that does not mean I will stand idly whilst sf attempts to contruct saints out of MMG and others who refused to acknowledge the havoc they created. I think ordinary people ( i.e. Non ‘combatants’) would find it easier not to bring the past into the equation we’re it not that SF try to make a virtue out of wrongdoing. As for victims/survivors I would not dream of asking them to move on. It’s their call.

  • William Kinmont

    Thanks for the detail changes even my original sentiment towards the symbol

  • Jamie Delargy

    What you are describing is not peer pressure which is about, usually, youngsters consciously changing their behaviour or lifestyle to fit in. Your episode concerns some adults who weren’t trying to conform at all but understandably didn’t want to make a fuss or create a scene. I intend to write another post in the next week or so about my experiences in that regard.

  • Aodh Morrison

    Yes. And perhaps those who equate the Irish Language with Irish nationalism (my point) have some degree of culpability in helping to form that unionist mindset?

  • Aodh Morrison

    Thanks for the detail.

  • Get The Grade Get The Grade

    The tenor of the debate in the North is different because, of course, it isn’t Britain. It’s a different place with a different society, different history and different experience.

    Your point about how Nationalists see,”The poppy [as] a symbol of the Brits,” and “politicise and make divisive something that really does not need to be,” could be taken as wilful ignorance. Have a look around you and see how the symbol is being used – it is being used as a symbol of Britishness, unfortunately.
    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/0a41b650566eda071fc2deefd2c7793ee5c1a06c8e15248f6a911c0ba9f317ac.jpg https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/dc499950b7d6e75692b6f7f0f3f79d057df28b6320ac867313e975b6070bdb78.jpg https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/b3dddec4ac956a48d147620c201914cdfc641b088d605b75b7439738478db483.jpg https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/f83d838f2f7f27ff702985e1600d3c1e0c64051a7566a4cbb0f50a7428bd3306.jpg https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/bd945738bf3351aa9c3aa73194add036449e95c9e1cbb2b16840b2ca85b53dec.jpg
    I’m not sure its helpful to constantly blame the other side for all the ills and problems of this world.

  • John Porter

    Just read the other responses. I’m sure that they are people who think them are moderates. Shameless.
    Metaphors to hide behind:
    Nationalist, meaning any catholic.
    Republican, meaning a political catholic.
    Unionist, meaning protestant.

  • Aodh Morrison

    The soldiers in a regular army are not able to debate the rights and wrongs of the conflicts a country’s government sends them to fight. They have to go, or leave the forces.

    Of course this is quite different from taking part in blatantly illegal actions. In that case they should be held to account under the provisions of the Geneva Conventions, supernational courts or national criminal law.

    However to deny a charity in providing help and assistance to former service personnel on the basis that some may have been criminally liable for misdeeds, or on a moral distaste for one individual conflict or another is like arguing that the NHS should not treat criminals if they become sick or are injured.

    At the end of the day the Poppy Appeal is voluntary giving. Anyone can refuse to give. The etiquette of wearing, or not wearing, a poppy is a personal matter. It comes down to many things, not least curtesy.

    Those who get upset about the mere sight of a poppy, or a question from a poppy-wearer about the lack of one on a colleague (a question that might arise from benign cultural curiosity, or a wish to point out something that is perceived as an oversight by someone for whom the poppy is not an anathema and who simply seeks to help) are in the business of point-scoring, or, like those who sit during the playing of a national anthem that is not their own, are merely ignoramuses.

  • mac tire

    Pointing out Irishmen who died in British army uniform is only a relatively small proportion of those the poppy commemorates.

    It’s worth remembering that, in the case of WW1, most who fought for Britain did so at the urging of Redmond to bolster the argument for Home Rule – something that wasn’t given. Some of those who returned home fought for the IRA.

    And while many use it to remember lots of brave people (I’m sure), it also represents the then UVF (let alone the modern version appropriating it these days).

    It remembers the airmen who were killed while melting women and children to pavements right up to those who killed civilians within our lifetimes in Ireland and eventually to those took part in an immoral invasion of Iraq (and everything in between since it has been first used).

    It is for some or for all these reasons that many have problems with wearing the poppy themselves. Of course, it is the right of those who wish to wear it to do so.

    Personally I wouldn’t wear it as it doesn’t represent me and I wouldn’t be convinced to do so because some Irishmen died in British army uniform. Do I have a problem with any Irishman wearing a poppy? Not in the slightest.

  • Georgie Best

    Indeed. The problem is that commemoration of the First and Second World Wars, conflicts in which people from many nations fought, has been hijacked into support for the British Army. The latter is entirely inappropriate in a place at the receiving end of British military expansion.

  • Shane

    James McClean has never declared support for murder. Unless the implication is that wearing an Easter lily is akin to encouraging murder because it represents people who have committed crimes in the name of their cause. Which makes it no different to the poppy I suppose.

    You say it’s “not very nice” of someone to wear a symbol dedicated to those who killed his (wholly innocent) relative. I suggest it’s not very nice of you to expect that he should.

  • Surveyor

    He was asked passive aggressively by a work colleague why he was not wearing a poppy. The inference is he should be wearing one, but if you don’t see it that way then fine.

  • Granni Trixie

    But your interpretation and labelling illustrates the point as I’m sure many disagree with your assumptions.

  • Surveyor

    Mocking the Irish language is the fault of Irish Nationalists as well! You just couldn’t make it up if you tried.

  • Sean Danaher

    What you need to remember, German relations were quite good and it was not obvious that Nazi Germany was as bad as it proved to be. In addition to the slight problem that Ireland had faught a war of independence against the British only 18 years before which made it politically very difficult to join with Britain.

    There also was considerable dislike of certain aspects of British foreign policy and amongst my grandfathers generation for example the Boers were very much admired. The “invention” and use of concentration camps in SA struck a deep blow against any vestige of moral authority the British tried to exert. There are lots of other examples in Britain’s “proud” imperial history which led to a “plague on both your houses” mentality.

    There was also some considerable German presence certainly in Munster during the Ardnacrusha hydroelectric build in the late ’20s (which I think was the largest in the world until the Hoover Dam was completed). The Germans were impeccably behaved and very well liked on a personal level.

    As I have mentioned before my father chose to do his PhD in Germany in 1937. His general principle was that “no country should be trusted beyond the narrow grounds of its own self interest”.

    It wasn’t till after the war that the true horror of Nazi Germany came to light. The atrocity propaganda used by the British against the Germans in WW1 was largely discredited after the war and there was a mistaken belief that the same would happen after WWII.

  • Brian Kann

    Soldiers nowadays who sign up with ongoing conflicts can’t claim to be unaware of the moral issues of these modern wars. Maybe some have no choice if they are in the forces when they break out, but many also make a conscious choice to sign up or stay in regardless, knowing full well that many see it as an illegal war. I wouldn’t personally be ok with contributing to causes for those people but respect that others do and don’t judge them. As you say, that’s the way it should be.

    The point is the poppy is not just about the World Wars –
    Contrary to the myth that’s sold about it. People should have free to wear it or not. In NI it’s obviously even more sensitive but you can have other reasons than being “anti-British” or a nationalist. I really don’t see why a fuss is made at all.

  • T.E.Lawrence

    Would you wear an Easter Lily and if so why ?

  • Roger

    Indeed. No doubt you’d see it just the same way were the emblem in question an Easter Lilly thingy.

  • babyface finlayson

    Ah come on, make something up!

  • Mary Russell

    The poppy was first used in Canada in 1915. It was brought into common use in 1921 by the British Legion.. It is most commonly used in the UK, Australia, New Zealand and Canada. It should only be worn for the 2 weeks prior to November 11th.

    it is understandable why Nationalists don’t wear the poppy. You must remember in 1921, they were in the middle of the war of independance. How could you then turn around and be seen to wear a symbol of the enemy you were after fighting. In the years that followed in the formation of Northern Ireland, it was not a good time to be a Nationalist, you could not in good conscience be seen to support a military that represented the power in government that were your suppressors. During the troubles/conflict, how could you support what was considered by your community to be an extension and enforcer of an unfair and unjust government in Stormant, how could you support those who killed many innocent Catholics, including young children and even a young girl going to mass. It is understandable why Nationalists cannot find it easy to wear a poppy.

    I understand why people want to remember the dead of all wars. Remember Nationalists also lost people in those wars. It is also your right to choose how you remember your dead, but what you should not do is insist that everyone else remembers the same way.
    I have family who fought in WW2. They, luckily, survived the war, but I have never seen them wear a poppy. When I asked why not?, I was told “I will remember my friends and comrades in my own way, quietly and with a prayer. I do not need to parade my remembrance for all to see”.
    Next time you see someone wear a poppy, that’s their choice and the way they wish to remember. Next time you see someone not wear a poppy, they are also remembering quietly in their own way with a prayer perhaps. It’s not disrespectful not to wear a sign of remembrance. I am sure that those who fought and died in any war don’t want those left behind fighting over how they are remembered. You wear your poppy to remember, I’ll remember in my “heart and with a prayer”, I don’t need a symbol to show the world I remember, I know I do.

  • Oggins

    There is plenty of evidence since partition that Unionism themselves help remove any sign of that pesky Irish from their traditions. Unfortunately for all, both sides made Irish a political football. Remember it takes two to tango

  • Hawk

    I know what you said, which is why my comment was about their reaction to Martins end.

  • Hawk

    She attended his funeral as I recall, yes no glowing eulogy, but a small gesture from a woman who’s father was targeted by the IRA. This article is about small gestures ‘lest we forget’.

  • Aodh Morrison

    If that’s the depth of your analysis I doubt I can help you much further.

    I find Mopery a rather tough dynamic to crack.

  • mac tire

    Not only would I wear one – I do. I do it for the obvious reasons.

  • Granni Trixie

    I am of the generation where “the queen ” was played at the end of the day in cinemas on the Falls Road (Broadway,Clonard) . There was always a rush to get out the door before the music started up but those who didn’t get away in time stood for the Queen. Would be interesting to know when and how this “tradition” ended – late 60 s I presume.

  • Granni Trixie

    I seem to remember some years ago that some ‘junior’ Sf people produced paper lilies for distribution with a petrol bomb in the centre until a more senior colleague put a stop to it. One of the less experienced people was supposed to have said “have you no sense of humour?”. That person is now a TD – I wonder how he would view the act now that he is more mature (presumably).

    I don’t know how I know this – probably read it and it is tucked away in memory because it’s both funny and pathetic.

  • NotNowJohnny

    Interesting point. I have witnessed a tendency for British symbols/cultural practices to be viewed as neutral or normal. Any changes to the status quo is therefore resisted on the basis that it is discriminatory/anti unionist.

  • mac tire

    I don’t remember if it was an Easter Lily (could well have been) but I do remember Ógra Sinn Féin having their a new logo with a petrol bomb as part of it.

    If the person is a TD then I would hope he would wince now when he thinks about it.

  • T.E.Lawrence
  • Barneyt

    No no no….late 70s/early 80s in Newry at least, of all places. I went to a protestant secondary school in Newry in 78 and one friend, knowing I was not from is tradition wanted to know if I would stand at the end of the flix. I cant recall what I said, but turns out I was not asked to go to see the film 🙂

  • Barneyt

    Thats very true. If it was a true remembrance for those that died in WWI, many would be inclined to wear it. They could event extend it to those who fell in WWII, however it has a very different meaning these days as many have mentioned on here. There is also the act associated with it of raising funds to support initiatives today. Its has turned into a symbol of British allegiance rather than a symbol of remembrance for those that were slaughtered in the poppy fields of France.

  • Barneyt

    Jamie, someone on this post suggested you elected to wear a poppy as a
    result of peer pressure. I have to agree with them and in fact, you were openly
    challenged as to why you were not displaying the symbol. It’s hard to see
    anything different from what you have written.

    The fact that you were able to discern their mood from the corner of you eye
    suggests you could perhaps already cut the atmosphere with a knife. You
    conceded, which in many ways means you gave way or gave in. Some elements of
    your piece gave me the shivvers, particularly with the words “their
    silence”. Add all of this up and I have to conclude you were brow-beaten
    into compliance, both directly and more subtly.

    I grew up in largely Catholic South Armagh, which in the 70s was more nationalist
    than the republican it is today. I still doubt many republican credentials
    today. In 78 I was sent to a protestant school in Newry and it was there that I
    was first exposed to the poppy, and other symbols which unfortunately were used
    to denote ones leaning. I am well aware of the mood that can be created. The
    failure to don the symbol allowed many to draw a firm conclusions in their
    minds. You were not one of them. You did not accept their tradition. You were
    most probably an IRA supporter. I cannot recall if I ever wore one. I may have
    been given one to wear however.

    Over the years, I continued to abstain and not to participate. I became
    hardened to it as each year I was challenged by my peers, senior pupils and
    indeed teaching staff to explain why I was not wearing a poppy. There was no
    wriggle room. “Where’s your poppy?” came the calls, in the corridors
    and in quite a public settings more often than not.

    The same applied to “wings appeal” day, which I later understood
    was a direct collection in support of the armed services. It was appalling
    conduct for a Newry based school that should have been pioneering more
    cross-community initiatives, but that has yet to happen to this day.

    I am all too aware of the moods you experienced, as I too could sense it from
    the corner of my eye and through a great deal of silence and more. The
    difference is, I stood my ground, as a child, whereas you appear to have given
    in to the pressure to be seen as part of the brandishing patriotic club. No
    longer would anyone say to you, “Where’s your poppy?”.

  • Granni Trixie

    I really appreciate your story.
    I was wondering if you wore ash on your forehead on Ash Wednesday, a sure giveaway?
    Btw, I notice that around QUB you stil see some students wear it.

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    Indeed. Instead we use a passive/aggressive approach: trying to shame the other into accepting our own viewpoints. Simple communication should not be so difficult among mature adults.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Lt Col. John McCrae wrote the poem Aodh. I’ve posted a scan of the review copy my grandfather received in 1919.


  • Gopher

    “There’s no evidence at all that Irish neutrality prolonged the war by one day”

    The thing that always amazes me is this relationship between Republicans and Irish and how normally rational Irishmen let these crack pots define them.

    The biggest bottleneck to victory in WWII was shipping that unlike your statements is a fact. A simple glance at a map and even a moderate understanding of time and space and the location of the Republic of Ireland vis a vis the U Boat bases of Biscay and the Convoy routes across the Atlantic demonstrates you are talking complete and utter nonsense.

  • William Saunderson

    It’s rather unfortunate that the poppy issue tends to be seen through the prism of NI community allegiance, and not in more general terms. There are grounds for objection to the near-obligation for anyone in the public eye to wear one that have little to do with NI:

    *The poppy only commemorates military victims – and only British military victims – rather than civilian victims of war.
    *Funds from poppy sales are used to support veterans: surely that is the job of the state that sent them into conflict.
    *The poppy originally commemorated, and continues to evoke, a conflict in which the military victims (at least from 1916 onwards) were largely conscripts, and yet puts later military adventures on the part of the UK government (involving professional soldiers) on a par with generational/civilisational conflicts such as WW1 and WW2.
    *The poppy’s ubiquity in recent years is symptomatic of creeping normalisation of militarism in British society – when and why, for example, did poppies literally become part of the fabric of football strips?

    The only reasonable approach on this matter is to live and let live. If people want to commemorate military casualties of war in this way, fine; nor should they be assumed to be engaging in uncritical endorsement of the British Army. Likewise, if people, for whatever reason, do not want to, they should not be subject to public opprobrium; nor should their motives be presumed upon.

  • Aodh Morrison

    Thank you.

  • mac tire

    I’m sure you have a point there but for the life of me I just can’t see it.

  • Aodh Morrison

    I applaud you moral stance.

    “Melting women and children to pavements” in Germany;very bad: no Poppy.

    Melting men and women in a hotel in Belfast; no problem: where’s my Easter Lily?

  • MainlandUlsterman

    So they got it badly wrong about Nazi Germany – really incredibly, earth-shatteringly badly wrong – in summary. Yes, where were the warning signs …

  • MainlandUlsterman

    No, it was declaring Martin McGuinness, former chief of staff of the IRA and unrepentant about the IRA campaign, his hero

  • MainlandUlsterman

    The fact that some extremists use a mainstream symbol doesn’t invalidate it for everyone else. Look at the tricolour – all over IRA symbolism but actually also a flag to be respected as the flag of our friends the Irish Republic.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Of course. It doesn’t mean all the arguments put forward in support of such a decision are immune from rational scrutiny though. And there is some massively wrong-headed stuff spoken within Irish nationalism about the poppy.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    you could ask, what had Nazi Germany done to humanity? Kristallnacht was in 1936 and the annexation on non-German territory started before the war even started, earlier in 1939. At what point was Ireland willing to stand with the countries opposing the Nazis process of serial invasion? Not at all, was the answer.

    Not hard to see an alternative approach, without becoming cheerleaders for the UK, where Ireland in 1939 takes the side of the other recently independent countries like Czechoslovakia, or fellow strongly Catholic country Poland, or Belgium, the Netherlands, France, Denmark and the rest … But no.

  • ted hagan

    As I said, Ireland was a small country that had an understandable antipathy towards England. It declared neutrality, like Portugal, like Spain, like Sweden like Switzerland. And during World War Two Ireland actually breached neutrality many times to help allied forces. As for Kristallnacht, well, yes, but Britain was dealing with its own ugly wave of antisemitism in the 1930s and certainly within the British upper classes there was a certain admiration for the Nazis and a fierce antisemitism. As I am sure you know, Britain didn’t go to war because of the plight of the Jews. Knowledge of the evils of the Holocaust would only come towards the end of the war. In fact Britain operated miserly quotas and strict controls over the entry of Jewish refugees right into the early years of the war.
    All this doesn’t take away my admiration for Britain and its brave stand against the Nazis during World War Two, and the sacrifice that many people, including Irish citizens, made, but at the same time I believe the new state of Ireland steered the correct course during a turbulent time..

  • Get The Grade Get The Grade

    A national flag isn’t the same as an emblem that is supposed to be neutral, although you are right, extremists can invalidate symbols for everyone else.
    Here’s the thing, though, it’s not just extremists who have hi-jacked the poppy – and that’s my point. It’s the British Legion, British sporting bodies, British politicians…it’s become a symbol that represents Britain/England and her pride in her fallen.

  • Sean Danaher

    but it was not obvious at the time even to my father who spent 1937-39 in Germany, mainly in Berlin. What was obvious was that war was coming and he left Germany in July 1939 without completing his PhD. Its all very easy to have 20:20 hindsight.

    He was more forgiving of Chamberlain’s Munich agreement than most as he thought it bought valuable breathing space for Britain to get ready for the impending war.

  • Get The Grade Get The Grade

    Ireland’s policy was identical to the USA’s – neutral unless attacked.

  • mac tire

    The poster I was answering offered a reason as to why Irish people should wear a poppy. I answered him with some of the reasons given by people for not wanting to wear a poppy.

    You’ll find that in this part of what I wrote: “It is for some or for all these reasons that many have problems with wearing the poppy themselves.”

    You have given reasons why some would never wear a Lily. That’s fair enough. I’m certainly not going to try to argue reasons why they should.

    Anyway, I’ve clearly stated I have no problem with someone wearing a poppy, so I’m not saying it is ‘bad and the other ‘good’.

    You’ll find that in this part of what I wrote: “Do I have a problem with any Irishman wearing a poppy? Not in the slightest.”

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Interesting to reflect that in that era, the Republic regarded Northern Ireland as part of its national territory. Except when we were attacked by Nazi Germany …

  • MainlandUlsterman

    and they generally acknowledge they got that wrong – Churchill is revered there

  • MainlandUlsterman

    It did buy breathing space and I wouldn’t be too down on it either.

    I think it was fair enough not to have foreseen the death camps. But the militarism and plans to invade neighbouring countries were not hidden. But yes my Dad who started school in the 30s said one of his primary school teachers returned from a summer trip to Nazi Germany waxing lyrical about the place. The sense of purpose and vigour about the place impressed a certain kind of person I think.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    but isn’t that an aspect of Britain you can empathise with – something all nations do? I just don’t get why it’s OK to pick that particular symbol and pick remembrance as a time to show anti-British animosity. The poppy, though a symbol we use, is not particularly about patriotism and is not an excluding symbol. It’s about remembering all those hundreds of thousands of war dead and saying that was not nothing, that mattered and their loss was tragic.

    I have one great uncle in a Commonwealth war grave in Murmansk and another in Northern France. I’ve visited the French one and it’s beautifully kept. And despite being in Arctic Russia, the small Murmansk cemetery is also a credit to the CWGC, I’ve seen the photos and know exactly which grave is his. They’ve even created a photo archive of his unit’s work. That is I think largely paid for by the poppy appeals and it’s what the poppy is about.

    We were in two world wars, they were huge and the experience of military service and the war effort had a massive personal impact on probably most families in these islands. To try and sour their commemoration now by portraying it as somehow sectarian is pretty low I think. It smacks of people who look at a global event that destroyed millions of lives and see nothing but their own local grievance. It is sickeningly petty and insensitive.

  • Sean Danaher

    Regarding the Jews, I think many people thought that something like a Russian “Pale of Settlement” solution was being implemented. This had existed from 1791 right up to 1917 which was of course very recent in the ’30s.

    My father detested the Nazi regime but loved Germany. He very much believed that “eternal vigilance was the price of liberty” and was deeply worried that fascism would return to the west again. He thought almost certainly not in Germany but it “could happen anywhere”.

    Shame he is not still around (he would be 104) as there are some right-wing populist elements which are very concerning.

  • John

    Even their own neighbours. Lighting fires on top of the Mournes to guide Luftwaffe pilots up the coast from Dublin to bomb their ‘fellow’ Irishmen in Belfast.

  • Roger

    There’s something massively wrong with a culture that expects persons to wear political symbols. This goes for the BBC’s culture of wall to wall poppies as it does for Fox News US flag pins. I cannot think of any direct equivalent in Ireland but I’d be against it if there were one.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    To the vast majority of people wearing them, these are not political symbols. Of course all symbols have a political angle of one sort or another. The question is whether we regard that element as significant or not. It seems to me that some more ardent Irish nationalists have chosen to focus on the political aspects of a symbol of which politics or nationalistic assertion are thin, thin threads in the garment. They are missing the point of the poppy – they are free to do that – but in doing so must be aware they are taking part in a culturally aggressive act – that of seeking to highlight the negative in a beloved symbol and make it political, when nearly all its users value it in an almost entirely unpolitical way.

    All it takes to controversialise the poppy is to take this politicised approach to it. Overton’s Window then delivers a negative change in the terms in which poppies are discussed and regarded in the culture – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Overton_window – because those defending the poppy are forced to debate the poppy as if it were a political issue, and so it becomes one, the assumed “fair” answer to which lies halfway between the two competing sides. Republicans do this all the time – making extreme pitches which then become normalised – to move the centre of gravity in their direction. Trump does the same (less effectively), so does UKIP (fairly effectively).

    The poppy debate is only one particularly egregious example. There has been a whole pattern of it, it is central to the Republican MO and has been as long as I’ve been around. It’s one reason why unionists have long erred on the side of defensiveness more generally.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    He sounds an amazing man, you must miss him.

    I think that’s right on the Nazi plans for the Jews; and indeed the Nazis themselves only shifted towards the annihilation policy, we now know at the Wahnsee Conference in January 1942. However, the Allies knew and made public what was happening in December 1942 in a Joint Declaration by Members of the UN (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joint_Declaration_by_Members_of_the_United_Nations):
    “The attention of the Belgian, Czechoslovak, Greek, Jugoslav, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norwegian, Polish, Soviet, United Kingdom and United States Governments and also of the French National Committee has been drawn to numerous reports from Europe that the German authorities, not content with denying to persons of Jewish race in all the territories over which their barbarous rule has been extended, the most elementary human rights, are now carrying into effect Hitler’s oft-repeated intention to exterminate the Jewish people in Europe.

    From all the occupied countries Jews are being transported in conditions of appalling horror and brutality to Eastern Europe. In Poland, which has been made the principal Nazi slaughterhouse, the ghettos established by the German invader are being systematically emptied of all Jews except a few highly skilled workers required for war industries. None of those taken away are ever heard of again. The able-bodied are slowly worked to death in labor camps. The infirm are left to die of exposure and starvation or are deliberately massacred in mass executions. The number of victims of these bloody cruelties is reckoned in many hundreds of thousands of entirely innocent men, women and children.

    The above-mentioned governments and the French National Committee condemn in the strongest possible terms this bestial policy of cold-blooded extermination. They declare that such events can only strengthen the resolve of all freedom-loving peoples to overthrow the barbarous Hitlerite tyranny. They reaffirm their solemn resolution to insure that those responsible for these crimes shall not escape retribution, and to press on with the necessary practical measures to this end.”

    Meanwhile in The Free State (from wikipedia):
    “There was some official indifference from the political establishment to the Jewish victims of the Holocaust during and after the war. This indifference would later be described by Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform Michael McDowell as being “antipathetic, hostile and unfeeling”. Dr. Mervyn O’Driscoll of University College Cork reported on the unofficial and official barriers that prevented Jews from finding refuge in Ireland although the barriers have been down ever since:
    “Although overt anti-Semitism was not typical, the southern Irish were indifferent to the Nazi persecution of the Jews and those fleeing the [T]hird Reich….A successful applicant in 1938 was typically wealthy, middle-aged or elderly, single from Austria, Roman Catholic and desiring to retire in peace to Ireland and not engage in employment. Only a few Viennese bankers and industrialists met the strict criterion of being Catholic, although possibly of Jewish descent, capable of supporting themselves comfortably without involvement in the economic life of the country.”

    The De Valera condolences to Germany on the death of Hitler came well after the liberation of the death camps. No other country did it. For me it’s a symbol not of his pro-Nazi feeling but of the depth of his hatred of my country, the one that stood alone in Europe in the fight against Nazi Germany and which De Valera could not bear to see looking morally vindicated. His bitterness led him to compound the moral failing of Irish neutrality.

    And people wonder why people in Northern Ireland didn’t want to be part of an independent Irish state …

  • Get The Grade Get The Grade

    I’m not so sure about that they do “generally” acknowledge that they got that wrong. There’s arguments for and arguments against that will never be resolved. The fact is their policy was identical to Ireland’s.

    Yes, Churchill is lauded in some quarters of America – this isn’t too surprising as he was half-American, himself.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Except that when attacked (and not even by Nazi Germany), the US entered the war. Ireland was attacked though not so dramatically, but chose to overlook it and stay neutral. The US could have chosen to just fight Japan after all; or not even that.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    The US was not attacked by Germany but declared war on it.

  • Roger

    A poppy is no less political than a US flag pin or Easter lilly thing. There is nothing wrong with things political. There is nothing, of themselves alone, wrong with a poppy or lily or pin. As with poppies, pins and lilies, people should wear what they like. They should wear them for their own reasons, be they overtly political or less so. Not because a culture is fostered around these symbols that makes them feel they must do so. That makes them basically as close to obligatory as school uniforms. Or makes them feel they must explain themselves if they choose not to. It’s quite another thing to make wearing a symbol obligatory or more or near so as they do on BBC. That’s unhealthy. As I’ve mentioned before, it’s ugly nationalism; divisive and imposing.

    Pretending the poppy is somehow different to flag pins or lillies or the like is hardly persuasive. Moreover pretending those who aren’t poppy fans are missing something isn’t persuasive either. I haven’t missed anything here. I’m still not one for poppies. I’ve no objection to you wearing one. I do object to the poppy antics of the likes of the BBC and the culture fostered around poppy wearing in the public arena generally. It’s culturally aggressive. It marginalises those for whom the poppy is not their thing. Ditto re US flag pins. Easter lily wearing has always been a small minority thing in Ireland so it’s never reached the realm of being culturally aggressive in my opinion but I’d apply the exact same logic were it ever the case.

  • Sean Danaher

    Thanks for your kind words re my father. I am no fan of De Velera and the Irish Free State could have done much more regarding Jewish refugees it was certainly “not our finest hour” to use a Churchillian quote.

    I never knew what my father thought of de Valera (though I have a book in my library -The Longships by Bengtsoon given to my father by de Valera); but my father seemed to know everyone. Crusoe for example became very West-Brit especially after he became editor of the Observer; though my main gripe is that he though poker boring during the long summer evenings in Dunquin Co. Kerry and wouldn’t play with us.

    One minor quibble is that I’m pretty sure the UN wasn’t founded till after the war and the link you give to a 1942 joint UN Declaration seems to send me somewhere else.

  • Sean Danaher

    The other thing I might add is had there been devolution AKA John Redmond things would have been very different. There wouldn’t have been the poisonous relationship between the UK and Ireland.

    Even in 1921 if the Unionists hadn’t been given an opt out it is highly unlikely that De Valera’s vision of a Catholic Ireland with “comely maidens dancing at the crossroads” would have prevailed. Pragmatists such as Collins would have been in power and Ireland would have joined the allies in the 2nd world war.

    What is also interesting is a factor at least of the Brexit vote amongst the English at least was driven by nostalgia; the warm feeling of greatness that was present in the late 1940s and 1950s (at least up to the Suez crisis). In the 20th century this was when the UK was rightly at its most proud. These years were in total contrast the nadir for Ireland.

    You are absolutely right. Joining an 1950s Ireland would have been madness but a 2020’s Ireland will be very different. Certainly better in many ways.

  • LordSummerisle

    I enjoyed that article. Well said Jamie.

  • John Livingstone

    Jamie wore the poppy because a colleague asked? Sounds like more poppy bullying. Rather than explain his reasons for not wearing it, he folded to the “request”. No one should be forced or coerced into wearing something they fundamentally disagree with. I could give you a thousand reasons why this so called gesture Jamie made is in my opinion, totally wrong. Everyone should have the right choice, and this poppy bullying has to stop.

  • Barneyt

    I dont believe I would have at that age. If I ever wore it would have been something I had done has a very young child or later in my primary school education and the school would have influenced it maybe. By the age of 11 or possibly 12 I was no longer of faith so combining that with my protestant secondary education I doubt I would have shown that level of branding in that environment. I was not great on symbology…apart from my CND badge 🙂

  • Granni Trixie

    In my case identify involved Pat Boone (henceforth my I am a Pat Boone fan badge which I wore proudly).
    Seriously though, I was really into the church until my mid forties – a daily communicant. I was so afraid of not getting into heaven.

    I would love to say it didn’t do me a bit of harm except it did – a sense of guilt hovers over most pleasures. At the same I probably try to live up to the values I absorbed.

  • Spike

    Sssh, you’re not allowed to mention that. It toilet flushes every unionist argument thereafter

  • SeaanUiNeill

    I very much agree Sean. My own family were liberal Protestant Home Rulers, and the primary importance of the UUC rejection of Constitutionalism and their recourse to arms in 1912 is a theme I regularly reherse on Slugger. As you say, much of what has occurred over the past century would have been a very different story if Unionism’s ” fishing expedition” against John Redmond and the IPP had not surprised them by its utterly unexpected success!

  • SeaanUiNeill

    But Trump’s current slogan is “America First”……

  • Sean Danaher

    Indeed Seaan
    on another matter one of my uncles was a royalist. Had no respect for the house of Windsor but though the Queen mother was genuine royalty with pure Irish and Scottish Royal blood flowing in her veins.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Interestingly for me, so was Ita McNeill, on of the most committed figures for the original Feis made nGlenn in 1904 Irish Revival and a significant northern activist in the Irish Cultural Revival in the north. She was Lord Cushendun’s sister and eloquently shows in her life just how pluralist the older nationalism of the Redmond era could be. There is an interesting scrapbook at PRONI from the 1940s with materials on the Royals.

    We are in Ireland recently rediscovering the habitual pluralism which is the only way in which Planter and Gael, Sean Ghall and Gael can realistically work as one nation, but with the legacy of Carson’s mendacious conversion to anti-constitutionalism, made in a huffy fit about being pipped at the post in the 1910 Irish Unionist Alliance contest by Middleton, the revitalisation of this older tradition is painfully slow.

  • Sean Danaher

    Thanks Seaan
    for me at least this is a forgotten part of history and a quick Google search was not much help but I did find this book:

    Feis Na NGleann: A Century of Gaelic Culture in the Antrim Glens by By Eamon Phoenix and Padraic O’Cleireachain.

    I do hope pluralism is on the rise; sectarianism is a cul-de-sac to an impoverished and non-functioning society.

    I also fear for Britain and I think the closest precedent to Brexit is the loss of the American Colonies, when it lost 30% of its trade and took a generation to recover good relations.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    The book you mention still gives a fearsomely partisan interpretation to the northern Cultural Revival, to my mind. F. J. Bigger was my grandfather’s friend and patron, and was a life-long constitutionalist, as were even figures such as Casement until virtually the last moment in the run up to the Great War. He was still a close friend of many of the activists of 1916, but such things were not such a cause of rancour before 1920. You’ll probably have to await my book on the Revival for a balanced picture ( but I would say that, would I not?) but needless to say it will not be my alter-ego Sean whose name will be on the spine.

    The potential disaster of the exit from the EU is likely to be as great a disaster as you suggests, and I am not just being provocative when I suggest that it may drive even life long Unionists to support Irish reunification in even the short run. This will sadly be driven not so much by pluralism as by sheer self interest. But as partition has eloquently shown, the Unionist ability to evaluate what might be in their genuine self interest can be dramatically distorted by thier quasi-religious commitment to the abstract concept of the Union…..

  • Sean Danaher

    Is there a publish date for your book and a full title?

    I think partition was a major error and the fanatical devotion of the NI Unionists baffles me. There is little reciprocation and the Tories would sell NI down the river without any qualms it they thought it was in their own best interest.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    You posted an email address to another poster I note. I’ll get back to you on that regarding the book.

    With some insider knowledge, I can state that there was some debate within Unionism between 1920-40 on the mistake they had made with partition. No-one actually is expected it to occur up to 1914, and by 1920 when it became a reality, no-one imagined it would last more than a few decades. WW II sustained it enough for it to stagger through to the early sixties, but it was in trouble even with its core constituency as the cross confessional vote for Labour (25% in the1962 election) clearly showed. Paisley quite correctly saw the modernising of O’Neill as something which would erode the old patterns, something even a lot of Liberal Unionists were coming to see as a good thing. But politically O’Neill had not moved an inch from the needs of keeping Unionism as the largest party and opposed Civil Rights as something almost irrelevant to his economic modernising policies. This is why there was so much tension between the NICRA, the PD (of which I was an activist) and what was very much a still conservative Unionism. O’Neill was even discussing mobilising the Specials against the Civil Rights movement in 1968, so far was he from the sainted image which popular history has painted him in. So ironically it was only another recourse to violence, that of PIRA in the1970s, which has sustained the arthritic statelet up to the present day.

    As you say, the Conservative consensus is for Irish reunification and being shot of the embarrassment of NI. This is what I’ve regularly encountered since 1998 and the Belfast Agreement, where any Conservative I encounter seems to think reunification is just a matter of time. I really wish that the local hardliners would understand just how frail the wall they expect to hold out the Gael really is in practice, no matter how often the odd “back to the trees” Tory will do a Randolph Churchill impersonation for their amusement.

  • Sean Danaher

    Will look out for the PM
    Many thanks for the insights
    Things are very much in flux at present and may be very different in 2022

  • SeaanUiNeill


  • john millar

    “Do the people commemorated by poppies not justify killing also? Indeed many of them killed many people.”

    Nope- they mark a pause to recognise those who wore identifiable state uniforms- in public– and sometimes paid with their lives.

  • john millar

    “alarming number of rogue members were linked to loyalist paramilitaries, and murders. ”
    Evidence please?

    Would it be appropriate use the same inferences to describe any other grouping in NI?