There has been a surge in interest in Ireland’s troubled history in recent months because of the 1916 Easter Rising centenary.
The cold-blooded way the British executed the Rising leaders still resonates all over Ireland as does their act of sending in the terror group, the Black and Tans, to pacify Ireland in the wake of that Rising.
It is hard to imagine that any Irish person would be asked to wear a poppy to honor the Black and Tans or the British Army troops who shot the rebel leaders one-by-one.
Until relatively recently, the wearing of the poppy on Remembrance Day (November 11) used to be optional.
Time was when the whole point of Remembrance Day was to honor the British Army servicemen and women who died in World War One in quiet contemplation.
Now it’s impossible to switch on a chat show or current affairs program on British TV for a period of about a month without noticing that every single presenter and guest seems to be obliged to wear one.
It is ridiculous to think that professional soccer player James McClean, who grew up in the Bogside in Derry, manages to attract controversy every year thanks to his unwillingness to wear the ubiquitous poppy on his club soccer jersey to honor British troops.
The British Army shot 14 innocent civilians dead in the neighborhood where he grew up in January 1972 and, presumably, McClean feels that he would be letting his own community down if he wore the poppy to honor the army dead.
He chose to play for the Republic of Ireland, rather than Northern Ireland, because of the political turmoil and sectarianism his community experienced during ‘The Troubles.’
Families in the Creggan and the Bogside spent almost 40 years campaigning for justice for their loved ones, until they finally received an apology from then British Prime Minister, David Cameron, in 2010.
In their particular communities, the notion of honoring the British Army dead still seems absurd.
"People say I am being disrespectful but don’t ask why I choose not to wear it,” said McClean this week. "If the poppy was simply about World War One and Two victims alone, I'd wear it without a problem.
"I would wear it every day of the year if that was the thing but it doesn't. It stands for all the conflicts that Britain has been involved in. Because of the history where I come from in Derry, I cannot wear something that represents that."
James McClean was the only player to refuse to wear the poppy yesterday.
RT for disgrace, like if in support. pic.twitter.com/C2XhDH1SdP— On the Terraces (@OnTheTerraces_) October 30, 2016
The English Premier League is now the most cosmopolitan soccer competition in the world. Yet there is outrage on social media if players from Argentina, Colombia, Ireland, or wherever, decide not to wear a poppy to remember people who died in a war which took place a century ago. This year, we have a new scandal because FIFA – world football’s governing body – is preventing players from England and Scotland from wearing the poppy during a World Cup qualifier in London on November 11.
FIFA prohibit the use of political, religious or commercial messages on team shirts and FIFA’S ban has been called “utterly outrageous” by the UK's Prime Minister, Theresa May.
On Friday, FIFA opened disciplinary proceedings against the Irish football body, the FAI, for including a 1916 anniversary logo on the Republic of Ireland team’s jerseys for a ‘friendly’ (exhibition) against Switzerland back in March.
FIFA have been accused of double standards after being alerted to the Irish jerseys by a disgruntled British Member of Parliament, Damian Collins.
Now any public figure, such as McClean, who dares not to wear a poppy can expect abuse from the British tabloids and vilification by fans on social media.
If you are a member of the large Muslim, Irish, or Asian communities in Britain, these can be an uncomfortable few weeks.
A presenter or guest on TV sticks out if he or she dares not to wear a poppy for Remembrance Day. The poppies seem to be everywhere, on the trains, the buses, in the parks, at places of work.
If you don’t wear the poppy, you risk standing out from the crowd at work and even being a target for abuse now that racists seem to be emboldened by the Brexit vote in the UK.
But, if you do, can an Irish person be comfortable in honoring the people who died on just one side in World War One?
Especially now while their sacrifice is still being used by political leaders to justify current wars involving the British Army, in far-off lands.
The poppy has become a British nationalist symbol, rather than a way of remembering so many ordinary people who lost their lives in a terrible war.
ALWAYS WEAR YOUR POPPY WITH PRIDE... pic.twitter.com/7Tb1hwFtAi— kevin martin (@seatedskydiver) November 6, 2016
If people want to honor their war dead, they should provide better support for veterans instead of forcing the likes of the Royal British Legion to write begging letters to support “our boys” who were injured in battles in Syria, Iraq, or Afghanistan.
They should ask why the British Army continues to occupy, bomb children, or start new wars in countries so far from home a century after the horrors of World War One.
Not engage in bickering over whether James McClean, or the English and Scottish teams, should wear the poppy, as all the bickering shows how far Poppy Day has drifted away from its original meaning.
If Remembrance Day involved honoring those who died in all wars, and trying to stop future wars from occurring, then people would have no issue about supporting it on both sides of the Irish Sea.
But if the poppy only honors the members of a colonial army, who caused so much suffering in so many lands, then no wonder its symbolism remains clouded in controversy.
All of the bickering only shows that the red poppy has been hijacked by British nationalists in recent years, to the extent that many people feel very uncomfortable about wearing it.
Would you wear a poppy on Remembrance Day?
This article was submitted to the IrishCentral contributors network by a member of the global Irish community. To become an IrishCentral contributor click here.