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God Save McClean: Poppygate

God Save McClean: Poppygate

31.10.15  /  Words: Eoin McCall

It’s coming up to Remembrance Sunday, James McClean has today refused to wear a poppy and the internet is awash with hatred and vitriol directed towards the Derry man. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même fucking chose.

Those such as McClean and indeed myself are seen- by refusing to wear the Poppy- as disrespecting those who fell during the fight against Nazism and those working class men used as cannon-fodder in the fields of northern France and Belgium to solve an internal Imperial family squabble. However this could not be further from the truth. As McClean himself states in his exceptionally eloquent open letter on the subject which I implore you to read:

“If the poppy was a symbol only for the lost souls of World Wars I and II, I would wear one.”

However, the issue lies in the fact that the Poppy is used to commemorate all British soldiers, and to wear one would not just be just honouring those young conscripts, both British and Irish who died in the World Wars.

But it would also be honouring those members of the Black and Tans who burnt my great-grandmother out of her home on the Derry-Donegal border in 1921 and the Paratroopers who shot 14 civillians dead on a Civil Rights March in 1972, in what became known as Bloody Sunday.

Soldiers such as Lieutenant Colonel Derek Wilford who was directly in charge of 1 Para- the battalion of soldiers who went into the Bogside- and was awarded an OBE for his service, who stated he was “proud of my actions on that day” along with other members of that regiment who were also honoured with.

While those who were involved in firing the fatal shots were rewarded with Medals and titles, families of the victims meanwhile had to wait until the publication of the Saville Report in 2010 for full exoneration of their loved ones.

Bloody Sunday of course, was an event that happened in James McClean’s home city of Derry and the events of that day are still very raw for Nationalists in the North of Ireland, particularly due to the lies profligated by the Conservative Government of the time, led by Ted Heath who attempted to portray the victims as undercover IRA men and the “complete whitewash” that was the Widgery Report into the events of that fateful day which accepted the Army’s version of events.

The events of another Bloody Sunday, 52 years earlier in Dublin have also scarred the relationship Nationalists have with the Poppy. On the morning of the 14
th of November 1920, a group of IRA men, led by Michael Collins known as “The Squad” assassinated 14 undercover British Agents known as the Cairo Gang.

Later that afternoon, a Gaelic Football match between Dublin and Tipperary was ongoing in Croke Park when in retaliation for the attacks, members of the British security forces opened fire on the crowd firing indiscriminately killing 12 people, including a Tipperary player Michael Hogan.


It is a key part of the story of the GAA, how these great games managed to survive and indeed flourish in the face of British oppression.

Even today the struggle against British security forces and the GAA is interlinked, seen most clearly at the Associations 82,500 capacity headquarters. The famous Hill 16- the only terraced part of Croke Park- was infamously built from the rubble of the 1916 Easter Rising and the stand in which trophies are presented and dignitaries such as the President of Ireland are seated is named after Michael Hogan.

Surely any right thinking person would understand that some Irish people would therefore be uncomfortable purchasing and wearing a symbol which honours those who carried out these atrocities.

Sadly however this understanding seems to be few and far between.

The best response to this sycophantic nonsense I have seen came from the Miguel Delaney, an excellent football writer for various media outlets including ESPN and the Independent on Sunday. Delaney has mocked those who demand McClean’s immediate expulsion from Britain- as he so clearly 'hates it'- and that he should go back to where he came from, by reminding his detractors that his hometown just so happens to also be part of the United Kingdom.

A further difficulty that many have with the Poppy is that it is a symbol that's been co-opted by Loyalists and used as a badge of allegiance; a further deepening of the divide that exists in the North of Ireland.

Specifically, in relation to Loyalist paramilitary groups carrying poppy wreaths and using the poppy in murals to commemorate mass murderers.

Take it from me; we, in the North, do not live in the post-Ceasefire Utopia of cross-community harmony that is so often talked about.

Nationalists and Unionists still tend to attend different schools, play in different sports teams, live in different housing estates, shop in different shopping centres, buy bread from different bakeries (Seriously, Google the case about Asher’s Bakery) and even support different National football teams.

This is not a piece to paint all British soldiers as genocidal war mongering animals, nor is it an attempt to absolve Republican groups such as the IRA of responsibility for the horrific and unjustifiable atrocities they committed throughout their armed campaign, such as the murder of innocent civilians in Guilford, Omagh and Warrington to name but a few.

This is merely an attempt to explain why the Poppy, a symbol which for the most part is revered for innocent intentions in Britain, is seen through a very different lens in the north of Ireland.

John Lennon said it best when he sang “You should have the luck of the Irish and you’d wish you was English instead” but also “Give Peace a chance”. Let’s do that, eh? 

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