Good Evening
Good Evening


It was Remembrance Sunday, the Sunday nearest to Nov. 11 in

the United Kingdom, and my wife and I had just flown from Manchester to Dublin

Airport. Each of us had a paper poppy pinned to our jackets. But shortly after

we stepped off the plane, a woman stopped us and said, "We don't wear those


During the preceding weeks we had visited the sad battlefields and

cemeteries and monuments in France and Belgium, on the Somme and in Ypres and

Passchendaele, as I did research for a novel set in World War I. As Nov. 11,

the anniversary of the last day of the war, approached we moved on to England,

where every town, village, city and hamlet has erected a memorial to their

children lost in that war. On the street we bought our poppies from a disabled


In Manchester Airport, as we neared our gate, a voice on the public address

system announced that it was 11 a.m. At once the entire airport came to a

standstill. For two minutes everyone stood in silence. All over Great Britain

the living were pausing to remember the men and women who lost their lives in


Standing in the terminal, I thought of some of the old soldiers who had

populated my childhood in Mountmellick, County Laois, Ireland - the postman

with the wooden leg, the neighbor in shellshock, the laborer with the limp who

had pulled his commanding officer out of no-man's-land. It is said that during

World War I every house in our town had a relative in the trenches; over 500

joined up and 54 died.

A few hours later we were in Ireland - a country that had sent a quarter of

a million young men to Europe between 1914 and 1918, that had lost 35,000 on

the battlefield, that had persuaded its youth they would be fighting for

Ireland. Yet, we were in this Ireland being told, "We don't wear those here."

There are few monuments in Ireland to the soldiers of World War I. A

beautiful memorial garden is tucked away out of sight in Islandbridge in

Dublin, but it fell into disrepair and was restored only in recent years. In

1927, Ireland's young government objected to erecting a national memorial in

the more conspicuous setting of Merrion Square because, as one parliamentarian

said, "It is not on [the soldiers'] sacrifice that this state is based, and I

have no desire to see it suggested that it is." Thus were the men who fought

for Ireland in Europe consigned to Ireland's ash pit.

Patrick Pearse, born in 1879, inebriated himself on Irish lore, gore,

legend and history. For him, Ireland was a woman, and Pearse would redeem her

from England and give her a rightful place among the nations of the Earth. He

would do this with the help of "our gallant allies in Europe" (Germany, against

whom hundreds of thousands of Irishmen were fighting) and by the shedding his

own blood.

When Pearse and his companions rebelled against the British in 1916, the

Irish populace reacted angrily. The Dublin women who were surviving on their

husbands' army pay spat on them as they were marched away to prison. That would

have been the end of the rising had the ringleaders not been sentenced to die

by firing squad. Opportunistic supporters of the executed rebels then took up

the fight against England on Irish soil.

The men in the European trenches suddenly were seen as less than Irish

because they were serving in the British army. When these soldiers returned

home, they were pushed to the outer edges of society and written off. And so

Ireland began the process of canonizing the 15 executed rebels and forgetting

the thousands of young men who had died in the war. Even the wearing of the

poppy came to be seen as pro-British - it didn't matter that the symbol had

nothing to do with England. It's from a poem by Canadian John McRae: "In

Flanders fields the poppies blow/between the crosses row on row/That mark our


Since 1169, when the English Normans were invited into Ireland by a local

chieftain seeking help against an enemy, the two nations have danced to the

tune of misunderstandings, rebellions and brutal suppressions. In time, England

came to see Ireland as one more province for settlers and as a source of

fighting men for her armies. The Irish World War I soldiers were accused of

supporting that oppressive England. For the most part, their motives were

anything but pro-Britain; they went out of poverty, in response to pulpit pleas

for the salvation of small Catholic Belgium and to the call to fight for

Ireland in Europe, and out of a sense of adventure.

Today, with Ireland enjoying a standard of living envied by England, the

bitterness of the past is being slowly diluted. The new Irish are highly

educated and forward-looking, and they know that after so many years of being

told otherwise, they are capable of meeting England on any field as equals. It

is time for the Irish to demand that the guards at the gates of the pantheon of

Irish heroes stand aside and admit their grandfathers and great-grandfathers

who fought in the Great War. It is time for them to wear the poppy on

Remembrance Day.