From Flanders' Fields to Belfast
by Niall McCamley
On the 11th of November, Remembrance Day, a peculiar flower takes its position on stage of the theatre of politics- the blood-red poppy. The poppy is the symbol of remembrance for those who were killed in battle during the Great War. At Queen’s the monument that sits in front of its splendid façade is dedicated to the lives of those lost during both world wars. The traditional sight of poppy wreaths being laid at memorials all over Britain will be broadcast by the media to our televisions, newspapers and radios yet its position in Northern Irish circles is a difficult and delicate one.
The image of a poppy on the lapel of a man walking a Belfast street can bring unwelcome but seemingly unshakable stereotypes to light. The stigma of the poppy appears to connect the flower towards a unionist ideal even though during the Great War both Unionists and Nationalists were casualties. Both fought in the dire trenches of slow and costly battles of attrition that shaped the First World War.
As a student who has lived in England and the Republic of Ireland I find the effect of the poppy quite striking. Studying in Northern Ireland, the overlap of the Republic and England, the treatment of Remembrance Day differs from both countries. In England it sombrely observed and school kids wear the bright poppy openly. This is a stark contrast to the South where it is largely ignored. No children wear the poppy in the schools and no sellers approach you in the street. Northern Ireland provides a mixture of both attitudes in the fact that whilst there is a smattering of red flowers and wreaths laid at the various memorials there is also an almost forced ignorance of the day by others. No trouble is caused but the lack of any forthright opinion on the subject provides Remembrance Day with an awkward atmosphere.
The delicate position of the poppy in Northern Ireland is a long way from the battlefields of the Great War where the blood of Irishmen (Northern and Southern, Unionist and Nationalist) was spilled in an attempt to win favour in Westminster for their different causes. The Unionists fought for their union with Britain and their counterparts fought for Home Rule. Both fought and died on the battlefields of Europe but what does Remembrance Day mean for both sides?