Sunday, November 12, 2006

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?

19 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Have a listen to the Remembrance podcast on iTunes or on the Royal British Legion blog. It's a good way to remember.

11/12/2006 5:34 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was privileged to attend the Remembrance service today at Queen's. There was a very dignified wreath laying ceremony and it was good to see the SU president laying a wreath along with some of the non-sabbatical officers. However it is disgraceful to think that so many of our sabbitical officers, who are getting paid to represent us, didn't bother to turn up and represent the students of this University. Apart from Colin Caughey, who had a good reason not to be there, I would like to know their reasons for this snub.

Furthermore, as someone who wore a poppy in the period preceding Remembrance Sunday it was shocking the amount of intimidation directed towards me around the university. This must come to an end.

11/13/2006 4:04 am  
Anonymous The Goat said...

How do you mean intimidation? Were you actually 'targeted' by someone or did you just get dirty looks? I find this difficult to believe ...

11/13/2006 11:33 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think it's shocking that in Northern Ireland people refuse to wear the poppy.We must be silliest country in the world where remembering soliders who fought and died for us all are the subject of debate.

11/13/2006 1:44 pm  
Anonymous David Cather said...

Given the thousands of people from the Nationalist community who died during both the World Wars; I wonder do they really hate us(unionists) so much that it stops them honouring their own dead?

11/13/2006 1:49 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

to the previous comment... i don't think it is because we (nationalists) hate you (unionists) we refuse to wear the poppy, it is the interepretation of the symbol northern ireland has adapted. if one looks at the views of history was it not true that unionists were given their own 'Ulster Division' but Irish efforts have not been sufficeintly recognised by the British.

11/13/2006 3:43 pm  
Anonymous David Cather said...

The Irish had their own division, (the Irish Division I think) which ironically was beside the Ulster Division at the Somme.

My previous comment was probably harsh, what I mean is that De Valera et al worked after the war to essentially forget that thousands of Irishmen had died fighting for a British army. They turned their people sacrifice into a dirty secret. Esentially their hatred of the British made them deny or cover-up their own peoples sacrifice.

11/13/2006 3:58 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

yes i do think it was a bit harsh. I doubt that, as the irish government actually encouraged men to fight on behalf of the British. Thousands of Irish men fought and as as you rightly said sacraficed their lives.However, their own division was peity compared to the Ulster divisions status. And furthermore do you not think that it was and still is the lack of British acknowledgement for the Irishman's war effort has left a distaste in Ireland?

11/13/2006 7:34 pm  
Anonymous the spy said...

What you might find anonymous is that in towns such as Newry, Eniskillen and numerous other places, both nationlist and unionist held remembrance services and parades together up until the late 30s. It was the outbreak of the second world war and the move for netrality which left remembrance on the backburner fo nationalism. I dont think that you are well read as numerous books such as Kieth jefferies Ireland and the great war, Steele Ireland and Gallopili all point out this subject of Nationalist Amnesia. The blame clearly lies at the feet of nationalism itself as governments and paramilitries prevented /scared those in the nationalist commuity from remembering The

11/13/2006 11:41 pm  
Anonymous David Cather said...

Anon there wasn't an Irish governemnt during the First World War and in the Second World War the Irish government was neutral so when did the Irish govt ever encourage people to fight for Britain?

I don't see how the 10th (Irish) Division was any different from the 36th (Ulster) Division. Both were formed on the same basis at the same time and neither recieved any special treatment. If the Ulster Division is better remembered it's because we make a point of remembering it. Which neatly brings us back to my original point about the amnesia nationalists have had over the years for their own war dead.

11/14/2006 4:29 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

re: intimidation

I refer to being pinned up against a wall in the PFC and called a black bastard. Although i have white sick...

11/14/2006 8:50 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow. Thats intimidation alright.

Having said that, surely this is an offence which could be brought before the university (isn't there cameras in the PFC)?

11/15/2006 12:55 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The matter is with the University authorities.

Apparently there are only cameras in the corriders but not the stairwells.

The offender was wearing an Antrim gaa top.

11/15/2006 3:33 pm  
Blogger Gown Team said...

Whilst the Gown welcomes free debate we would appreciate it if people would refrain from airing personal issues.

The above comment, posted by anonymous is welcome to post here, but please refrain from making such accussations on a public forum.

If he/she wishes they may make their case directly to the Gown via e-mail: thegown@hotmail.com

11/15/2006 4:44 pm  
Anonymous The Goat said...

Hold on Gown Team - surely this is taking it a bit too far. No names have been bandied about. I mean I'm an Antrim supporter and I think that last one was a fine comment - if the guy was intimidated then fine - lets prove it, then find the guys who did it....

I mean, shouldn't current affairs be the kind of thing we're discussing on a news website?!

11/18/2006 3:45 pm  
Blogger Gown Team said...

the goat,

For legal reasons we request that people do not discuss such things on a public forum.

Issues such as those that were discussed should be raised with the appropriate authorities, i.e. the Police and/or Queen's University directly.

Thank you.

11/18/2006 6:13 pm  
Anonymous the waiting room said...

I'm awaiting Natalie Simpson to come out and publicly tell her voters to go to the PSNI if they know anything about this.

11/18/2006 8:47 pm  
Anonymous Natalie Nic Shim said...

I will never co-operate with any occupying police force!

11/20/2006 4:36 am  
Anonymous mynameaintbobbysands said...

Occupation?

What about the will of the majority?

11/27/2006 5:08 pm  

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