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Dublin: 7 °C Friday 15 November, 2019
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Column: As an Irish woman, I believe in wearing the remembrance poppy. Here's why...

The poppy does not glorify warfare, death, or British nationalism – it recognises the senseless horror of our shared European past, which we have a moral duty to remember, writes Kate Bellamy.

Kate Bellamy

EACH NOVEMBER WE are distinguishable by the spot of red absent from or attached to our coats and scarves. It’s a contentious issue, this wearing of a remembrance poppy, which comes no closer to resolution every year, despite impassioned pleas from both sides in the press.

These sides are: pro-poppy or appalled by poppy. There’s no middle ground it seems. Google it and there’s no shortage of websites dedicated to personally destroying anyone who chooses to wear the red flower. On the other side of the field are the poppy fanatics, who believe not wearing one is tantamount to treason. It’s this kind of people that starts wars and I will not wear a poppy in their name.

Already you may be moving your mouse towards the x in the top corner, but for balance, it’s good to give weight to both sides of an argument commonly disregarded due to familial association or historical misinformation.

WWI will always unite Europe in a shared history

Firstly. The view that anyone wearing a poppy this November is in any way glorifying warfare is wrong. Completely wrong. A poppy does not equal British nationalism in the same way a hijab does not equal Islamic extremism. These are both reductive arguments that have no place in the overall debate.

‘History, Stephen said, is a nightmare from which I’m trying to awake’ (Ulysses, James Joyce), Aren’t we all. Unfortunately though, the First World War will always unite Europe in a shared history, in fact WWI could be said to define modern Europe, the Europe we’re are part of and is part of us.

You can’t choose your family, particularly when that family depends on you ecologically, politically, economically and socially. We’re joined by more than a communal currency (for the majority) but also a communal and colossal loss of lives, all of which deserve to be remembered. We must not forget our history, lest we are doomed to repeat it, as philosopher George Santayana once said.

The problem with history is that its perspective can get skewed and cause arguments, over things such as little paper poppies.

There are strongly-held reasons for not wearing the poppy that are hard to argue with. For some, the poppies represent the oppression by the British Army after World War One, the Black and Tans, the occupation of Northern Ireland. Should we, as Irish people, wear a symbol that is synonymous with Britain?

We must remember the atrocities that have marked our past

Thirty thousand young Irish men died during WWI, it’s the second biggest killer next to the Famine. It wasn’t just a British war. Some seem to believe that the wearing of a poppy approves or condones the great and the powerful sending the weak and lowly, including Irish, to their deaths: But it doesn’t. If anything, it makes us remember why we should not go gentle into that good night, we should stand against our rulers if needs be, like many Irish did during the rebellion in fact. Men that opted to fight for allied forces during the Great War did it for their families and their families’ futures.

We shouldn’t allow a simple flower, which shows we’ll never forget the worst bits of our background, to be ambushed and used as a symbol of nationalism.

British Soldiers were as misled as everyone, yet many see Irishmen fighting for the British Army as deserters of the cause back at home, citing the Easter Uprising as their key reason for not wearing the poppy. What makes one man a hero and another a traitor? It’s interesting to see how almost entirely erased is the treatment of the soldiers who did fight with the allies during WWI, when they came home. They were rejected from society; their jobs filled by others, benefits removed, ousted from their own community, forgotten by their own country.

Unfortunately Britain, as well as many other nations is still engaged in active warfare, and people are still dying both during and because of war which is why we must remember the atrocities that have marked our past and we must continue to try to prevent them happening again.

Men of all nationalities fell

If you go to Flanders, the Somme, Ypres or any of the other key battlegrounds of World War One you can see the poppies growing there. They are of that place, where men of all nationalities fell. To see the names written on towering marble plinths you would want to remember them in some way, you have to.

Perhaps we should choose our own symbol of remembrance, not the red poppy or the white alternative that stands for remembrance but also a downing of arms. Perhaps we need a uniquely Irish equivalent? Or an international image to remember all those who have fought and died and all those who continue to fight and die for what they believe is right.

Ultimately people should be allowed to mark important occasions in the way they wish, as long as they don’t cause harm or offence to others, and if you do find someone wearing a paper poppy for a few days harmful or offensive, perhaps you need to prioritise your problems.

Kate Bellamy is a TV and features writer online and in print in Ireland and the UK writing on contemporary women’s issues and television – where possible combining the two. Kate was shortlisted for the Vogue Young Writers Talent Contest this year. She can found tweeting @_KateMate.

Read more of Kate’s articles for TheJournal.ie here.

Read: Taoiseach and Tánaiste attend Remembrance Day ceremonies

Poll: Should we wear poppies to honour the Irish war dead?

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Kate Bellamy

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