‘Poppy Quite Simply a Memorial of Terrible Loss of Life’ – Remembrance Sunday at St Patrick’s Cathedral
St Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, once again welcomed Uachtarán na hÉireann, Michael D Higgins, to the annual Service of Remembrance yesterday (November 12). The cathedral was full on Remembrance Sunday with members of the defence forces past and present and from Ireland and overseas represented in the congregation along with families and relatives of those who fought and died in the first and second World Wars.
The service was organised by RBL Republic of Ireland and President Higgins and the Earl of Meath laid wreaths at the War Memorial in the north transept during the service. The service was led by the Dean, the Very Revd William Morton and lessons were read by the Minister for Justice and Equality, Charlie Flanagan TD and An Ceann Comhairle, Seán Ó Fearghaíl TD. The exhortation was led by Lieut Col Ken Martin, chairman of the RBL Republic of Ireland and was followed by the Last Post, the Reveille and the Kohima Epitaph.
The sermon was preached by the cathedral’s Precentor, Canon Peter Campion, who spoke of the need to respect people’s decisions on whether to wear the poppy or not. Canon Campion said he chose to wear a poppy each year in remembrance of his grandfather and granduncles who fought in World War I and to remember the 50,000 Irish and others who died. “I don’t expect people to admire me for wearing the poppy, but I hope they will respect my choice,” he stated.
However, he said he admired Irish footballer, James McClean, who apart from scoring a goal against Wales last month to propel Ireland into the play offs for next year’s World Cup, chooses not to wear a poppy. He pointed out that this is not an easy decision for the Derry footballer who plays for West Bromwich Albion as every year at Remembrance–tide, when all around him are wearing poppies, he is subjected to much abuse.
“I think that is disgraceful. He has never made an issue of it but others have made it an issue. When questioned about his decision not to wear the poppy, he says that being from Derry, Bloody Sunday is still a reminder to him of the painful presence of British soldiers at that time. James McClean may not have been alive in 1972, but it would be very much part of his family narrative growing up. He shows great restraint, strength and integrity in enduring these annual taunts, but it must be very difficult and hurtful for him nonetheless,” Canon Campion said.
He continued that his grandfather, upon returning from World War 1, was often derided and scorned for his decision to enter the British Army. When a Service of Remembrance took place in St Patrick’s at the end of the war, there were protests outside.
“Fortunately, as a nation we have moved on a great deal over the last hundred years. There are no longer protests outside the Cathedral doors. It is always a privilege to welcome the President of Ireland to this service which would have been unheard of not so long ago. The visit of the President of Ireland to Windsor Castle, the first state visit of a President of Ireland in 2014, as well as the Queen’s visit to Ireland in 2011, have brought considerable healing to the fractured Irish–British relationship. Even here in the North Transept of this Cathedral, where the many war memorials are kept, there is now a Tree of Remembrance giving people the opportunity to post notes praying for those affected by conflict today and for peace. Its neighbour is the famous door of reconciliation. We remember history so we can learn not to make the same mistakes again,” he said.
He concluded that Lieutenant John McCrea, whose poem ‘In Flanders Fields’ inspired the poppy symbol would have been horrified to think that this symbol could become one of division, national identity or a fashion statement. “It is quite simply a symbol of memorial, of the grim reality of the terrible loss of life, the heroic and the selfless as well as the needless and the thoughtless,” he stated.