I can remember over 20 years ago wearing a poppy in the house of an extended family member and being asked why I was wearing “that thing.” There was an uncomfortable hostility in the air and I merely said I was wearing it to commemorate my great-uncle who died a horrible death during the First World War. My great-uncle was only 17 when he died, that was still too young to even join the army.
We have moved on from those days and it sometimes amuses me to see even our politicians wearing poppies, some of the same politicians would have been in the vanguard of those criticizing poppy wearers twenty years ago. Still though, as we celebrate the centenary of the Great War and the various events during it I believe it’s important to remember why we, as Irish men and women, should wear the poppy.
When the war broke out Ireland was preparing for Home Rule. Indeed Home Rule was promised as soon as the war ended. The sooner the war ended the sooner we would have had Home Rule. John Redmond, Ireland’s Prime Minister in-waiting encouraged Irishmen to join up. One of those that did join was Redmond’s brother Willie, also an MP. Major Willie Redmond died on the Western Front in the Summer of 1917 aged 56. Another Irish nationalist MP who died in the same war was Tom Kettle. Kettle, well known in Dublin for his support of the workers in 1913, was no detached upper middle class Castle Catholic. He was a man of integrity and a great loss to his country. One of the bravest Irishmen to give his life during the war never even carried a rifle. Fr Willie Doyle carried his priest’s stole into the trenches to comfort the living and dying as well as praying for the dead. It’s impossible to say with certainty how many Irish men died during the First World War. The best estimate is upwards of 100,000 Irishmen between the two parts of the island and every one of them a volunteer.
It is a coincidence that Remembrance Day is in November, the month that is traditionally dedicated to commemorating the dead and when we in Ireland have a great tradition of visiting graveyards. It is proper that we carry that tradition on to remembering the many Irishmen who died during that war.
LT.-COL. H. R. STIRKE (COMMANDING THE 8th Dublins) on 13th SEPTEMBER 1917 referring to heroism of the late Fr. Willie Doyle
“He was one of the finest fellows I ever met, utterly fearless, always with a cheery word on his lips, and ever ready to go out and attend the wounded and dying under the heaviest fire. He was genuinely loved by everyone, and thoroughly deserved the unstinted praise he got from all ranks for his rare pluck and devotion to duty.”