As any long-time readers (and all the people who get here by searching for images of Nadine Coyle) will know, one of my favourite hobby horses is the poppy. More specifically, the way that the wearing of the poppy has been promoted in Ireland as some act of reconciliation. Here is some of what I had to say on the issue previously (previous posts here and here):
“In addition, I am sickened by the way in which a war that cost tens of millions of lives over the oppression of the peoples of other continents is trivialised and presented as a good things by idiots because Catholics and Protestants fought in it together, and we should all unite and honour their memory. Well no. We shouldn’t. We should condemn imperialism. And we should condemn the type of facile politics that produces the trivialisation of the greatest imperialist war in history. And reject them. If people want to wear a poppy, it should be a white one.”
The determined attempts to inject the commemoration of those who died in the furtherance of imperialism into culture across the island have a received a lot of support from influential people in the south such as Mary McAleese. And the southern army has participated in this as well. In its own words
The Defence Forces also give significant support to the recently established annual event organised by the Royal British Legion at the National War Memorial Gardens, Islandbridge, with its emphasis on the Battle of the Somme and the Great War.
However, it seems that a limit has been reached, and not before time. Unlike the Guards, who essentially have long viewed themselves as having organisational continuity with the RIC (hence the Guards band playing songs associated with that era for example), the Defence Forces have recently rejected attempts to have a memorial to British troops placed in their barracks in Cork. The reason given was that the Defence Forces – whose Irish-language title of Óglaigh na hÉireann is a reminder of their self-image and origins in the Treatyite wing of the IRA – represented a different tradition to that of the British army.
In considering any monument or event commemorating the Great War, the department wishes to ensure that due regard be had to the separate traditions of the Defence Forces and membership by Irish people of the British armed forces.
“The dedication of memorials in Defence Forces barracks and churches to personnel and units of the British services could give rise to confusion in relation to the separate traditions.
“As a general principle therefore, it is not intended that any further memorials be erected on Defence Forces properties relating to military service other than with Óglaigh na héireann.
The Royal Munsters Fusiliers Association, a commemorative society, had wanted to put a window in the garrison church in Cork for the centenary of the outbreak of World War One. Its spokesperson had the following to say.
It does not seem to gel with what Taoiseach Brian Cowen has recently said with regard to honouring the dead on all sides.
“This is not a subject that is ever broached in our schools and it is only when you delve further, you realise how much a part of our heritage this is.
“A lot of these men went out to fight these wars in the hope of helping Ireland and I think now they are being hard done by. We appear to be heading in the wrong direction in remembering their sacrifice with this decision.”
I couldn’t disagree more with his final sentence. What we need to remember is that a lot of those who went out to fight, in WWI in particular (though note he talks about wars in the plural), did think they were helping Ireland. But they were also doing so as part of an imperial project to which the Irish Parliamentary Party was dedicated. If we are to face up to this period in all its complexity, the imperialist nature of the Irish nationalist elite – and probably a large proportion of its electorate – must be faced up to. Putting an end to the culture of celebration of imperialism through facile words about the different traditions in Ireland shedding blood together, and unyieldingly shining a light on Ireland’s imperialist heritage is essential, especially if we are to understand our island’s role in the world today.
UPDATE: WP Cork city councillor Ted Tynan has issued a statement on this issue warning that commemoration of the dead must not slip into glorification of imperialism and war.