November 13, 2013

Alex Massie - It's about remembering not celebrating

Scotland's Alex Massie wrote on wearing the poppy in The Spectator blog here. He said:
"Consider the photograph at the top of this post. It was taken on Armistice Day in 1924. In Dublin.Yes, Dublin. The Union Flag is flown. The National Anthem – ie, God Save the King – is sung. A Celtic Cross is erected on College Green prior to its transportation to France where it would serve as a memorial to the 16th Irish Division. Some reports estimate as many as 50,000 Irishmen attended the commemoration. (There is British Pathe footage of it here). The Irish Times proudly reported that “the display of Flanders poppies was not equalled by any city in the British isles”. 
He continued: 
"Commemorations on this scale were not unusual in the 1920s. Two years later some 40,000 Irishmen marched to the Phoenix Park for a service of commemoration beneath the imposing Wellington Monument... The poppy and remembrance fell from favour in Ireland, elbowed aside by the rival story of the Easter Rising. A rebellion thought contemptible by most Dubliners became the national epic (in large part thanks to the British government’s obtuse reaction to the events of Easter 1916, a reaction that remains obtuse even if considered within the context of the First World War). But we can see more clearly now even if, paradoxically, also more darkly. This is Ireland, after all.
He continued:
"[The] enthusiasm was not restricted to Unionists. In 1919 Joe Devlin, the nationalist MP for West Belfast, declared that the 16th Irish Division’s dead “died not as cowards died, but as soldiers of freedom, with their faces toward the fire, and in the belief that their life-blood was poured out in defence of liberty for the world”. If England’s difficulty was, for some, Ireland’s opportunity there remained many others who saw the struggle for Ireland as a small part of a wider struggle to establish the rights of all small nations. Fighting for Belgium or for Serbia was a proxy for fighting for Ireland."
He concluded:
"No-one celebrates the First World War. How could you? But remembering it, in all its complexity, is one way of helping to understand who we are and how we came to be who we are, wherever we happen to be."
Read Alex Massie in full here. Read my previous blog post on the Irish in WWI featuring historian Diarmaid Ferriter and John Redmond here

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