A badge that divides.

In these islands the Royal British Legion paper Poppy has become a political symbol and for some a divisive one.

I was reminded this week of a lesson that my old Professor at York, Laurie Taylor, used to try and impart into my twenty-something brain.

“Most things are socially constructed.” The sociology department’s eponymous “History Man” would hold forth.

It was part sociology lecture, part revival meet, and part stand-up routine just as Malcolm Bradbury would have imagined at his typewriter.

Was a university education meant to be this much fun?

It is a tribute to the good professor’s abilities as a teacher is that, 25 years later, I’ve retained so much of what he sought it impart.

Our ability to indulge in social constructivism truly is an evolutionary step up.

Although chimps have a rudimentary culture and dolphins have regional accents, we humans do it all so much better. We have culture.

This means that we can take something from the natural world and give it a meaning that we intended for it not nature.

In early September after hiking El Camino Santiago I travelled from Galicia down into the heart of Spain.

Using a small town north of Madrid as a base I explored high into the mountain villages of Castile La Mancha.amapolas

Everywhere in meadows and on the steep side of ravines, there were expanses of poppies in brilliant red.

In these islands the Royal British Legion paper Poppy has become a political symbol and for some a divisive one.

I respect anyone’s right on either island to sport the RBL poppy on whatever day suits them.

I’m lucky in that I lost no one from my immediate family in any war-so it does seem somewhat distant.

It is often, of course shrieked, “they died for your freedom!” Even if I accept that at face value then I have the freedom to behave as I wish on Remembrance Sunday.

A few miles from where I’m typing this as a storm rages up Clew Bay there is the bend of the road at Carrowkennedy on the way to Leenane.

It is indescribably beautiful but it was once a place of bloodshed.

The Poppy also honours and remembers the Auxiliaries that murdered and butchered little homesteads in Kilmeena before being dealt with by the West Mayo Flying column a month later at Carrowkennedy.

Should I honour those British war criminals?

Yes, I enjoy freedoms that previous generations won me.

I’m aware of it and I am thankful.

As an Irishman in my fifties I’m not atypical to have two grandparents and a clutch of other relatives who were active from in the revolutionary period.

These relatives tend to have been born in the late 19th century i.e. they were of military age at the time of the Easter Rising.

So it was for my father’s father and my father’s mother.

I wouldn’t dream of lecturing anyone on wearing the Poppy. That’s their choice, but don’t lecture me for not wearing it.

That’s my choice also.

Although I’m not sure how much of a choice it is in Britain these days as the bodies continues to be driven through Wootton Bassett.

On British TV it seems de rigueur to be seen wearing an RBL poppy earlier and earlier.

The “Poppy fascism” on British TV has become so pronounced that it drew these comments from ex-SAS soldier Ben Griffin. The former paratrooper was in Britain’s elite regiments when Dr.Reid was in Tony Blair’s war cabinet. I think these two should meet.

“This year’s campaign was launched by inviting The Saturdays to frolic half naked in a sea of poppies. The judges on X Factor [at the request of the Royal British Legion] have taken to wearing grotesque poppy fashion items.

The RBL would say they are modernising and appealing to a younger generation. I disagree. I think that their stunts trivialise, normalise and sanitise war.”

War is nothing like a John Wayne movie. There is nothing heroic about being blown up in a vehicle, there is nothing heroic about being shot in an ambush and there is nothing heroic about the deaths of countless civilians.

Calling our soldiers heroes is an attempt to stifle criticism of the wars we are fighting in. It leads us to that most subtle piece of propaganda: You might not support the war but you must support our heroes, ergo you support the war.

It is revealing that those who send our forces to war and those that spread war propaganda are the ones who choose to wear poppies weeks in advance of Armistice Day.”

Griffin is the first SAS soldier to refuse to go into combat on “moral grounds”.


The Royal British Legion began using the poppy as a symbol for fundraising in the 1920s. Money used goes to help wounded servicemen past and serving and their families. Which means that the first tranche of money collected from Poppy sales went to aid the survivors of the First World War and their dependents. No arguments there. However it would also have gone to, say, a disabled soldier of the Essex regiment wounded by Tom Barry’s men as the Englishman came back from a day’s sport terrorising the civilians of West Cork.

Should, say, a Celtic supporter from Derry pay homage to a symbol that raises charity monies for the killers of Bloody Sunday?


Ben Griffin speaks with the authority of the veteran.

For him war is neither noble nor sexy.

There is, of course, nothing amiss in pausing to think of the terrified young squaddies on the Somme as they trembled and waited to hear the whistle, one foot on the step.

Or admire the steely resolve of the hard men of 2 Para as they waited for the radio to crackle the order “advance to contact” as the Argentines waited for them on Darwin ridge.

I can do both, but my heart and my thanks are to those lads who waited in the ditch on the bend of the road at Carrowkennedy.

They, truly, fought for my freedom.

Next year Baron Reid’s monarch will visit my country. She is very welcome. She is our neighbour, but not, unlike her grandfather, our ruler.

Yes, I remember those who fought for my freedom.

I have written before here how the authorities at Celtic had stumbled into a PR disaster post the “Famine song” into “Poppygate.”

It now puts the Celtic boardroom on a collision course with many of their Irish supporters.

There has already been a fair and frank exchange of statements between the combatants since the, mainly, adolescent “Green Brigade” made their Popular Front for the Liberation of Paradise beau geste.

If this were a prizefight then I would have the Association of Irish Celtic Supporters Clubs (AICSC) ahead on points.

This spat has been a godsend to a hostile press pack. It gave them something that allowed them to sound journalistic about as they attacked Celtic and, of course, through fortuitous timing, it allowed them to largely ignore the Dallas email scandal.

The fact remains is that the RBL poppy in Ireland is a divisive symbol.

In the North East of this country, it has been allowed over the past few decades to become a nakedly sectarian symbol.

It is, in the main, a seasonal badge of the Unionist tradition.

In the 26 counties of the Republic, the status of the Poppy is more subtle and nuanced.

It’s partial resurgence a visual manifestation of the revisionist triumph over the old narrow nationalist view of the returning Redmondite Volunteers as traitors to Erinn sean.

Indeed many returning British soldiers were the backbone of the Flying columns across Ireland in taking the fight to the British.

General Tom Barry first heard of the Easter Rising as a British soldier in Mesopotamia (Iraq) as he fought for King and country.

He was 19 and no idea of Irish nationality he would later relate in “Guerrilla days in Ireland.”

James Connolly first set foot in Ireland in a British Army uniform.

Celtic’s hard man chairman, a peer of the Realm if you don’t mind, wants people to leave their politics at the door.

Wearing a poppy is a political act among people on the island of Ireland. Some will approve some will not, but all will agree that it isn’t a politically neutral act.

Celtic with its Irish heritage should be cognisant of that.

If Baron Reid of Cardowan won’t mention those who oppose the Poppy on Celtic shirts then I won’t bring people’s attention to the fact that he palled around with an ethnic cleanser from Bosnia called Radovan Karadžić.

Baron Reid’s pal is now an indicted War Criminal at The Hague.

Baron Reid admitted he spent three days at a luxury Geneva lakeside hotel as a guest of Karadžić in 1993.This was during the period (April 1992-July 1995) in which the crimes for which Karadžić was indicted in 1995 were committed.

Perhaps the Green Brigade would be better served by inviting to Celtic Park, in the spirit of solidarity, Bosnian Muslims that managed to survive the holocaust unleashed on them by the Baron’s buddy. Karadžić is now safely banged up where all criminals should be.

Perhaps the bold Baron would allow a widow of Srebrenica to make the Paradise Windfall draw?

“Sorry” is THE most powerful word.

Are you sorry you accepted hospitality from a genocidal criminal?

Are you?

Perhaps when he stands in respectful silence he will think of the poorly equipped British soldiers that died in Iraq when he was the UK’s Defence Minister.

He should remember them.

You see Baron it might be a good idea if YOU left YOUR politics at the door before you bring to the Celtic boardroom whatever it is you think is so valuable and worthy of your remuneration.

No doubt you’ll wear your Poppy with pride on Sunday as inadequately resourced British soldiers stumble to defeat, for the fourth time, in Afghanistan.

During your year as Tony Blair’s Minister for Defence young men went needlessly to their death in Iraq.

From May 2005 until April 2006 17 British soldiers died in and around Basra.

Many of them to roadside bombs as they traveled in flimsy “snatch” Land Rovers.

It would be better if they stayed at home and the same, dear Baron, is probably true for you.

I don’t see what it is you bring to the Celtic boardroom.

Hopefully, this time next year you and your Poppy will be gone from Paradise.

You really should be history man.


I like my poppies when they grow wild on the Castilian countryside.

Some things are best left as nature meant them to be.

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