'He is a national hero' - Church of Ireland cleric admires James McClean for poppy stance
A top Church of Ireland cleric has called Irish soccer star James McClean a "national hero" over his decision not to wear a poppy.
Canon Peter Campion, whose grandfather and two great-uncles fought at Gallipoli, said the poppy was "a symbol of memorial of the grim reality of the terrible loss of life".
Canon Campion was speaking at the annual national service of remembrance at St Patrick's Cathedral in Dublin for those who died in World War I.
He said he admired Republic of Ireland soccer star James McClean for refusing to wear the poppy and said football fans' heckling of him was "disgraceful".
In his sermon, Canon Campion said: "So why do I admire rather than just respect James McClean? It isn’t for his gritty toughness which makes every member of the opposition team look over their shoulder, wondering where he is on the pitch. No, it is because he chooses not to wear a poppy.
"In the last ten years everyone on British television, whether delivering the news, commentating on sports, X Factor judges and contestants, Strictly Come Dancing performers, you name it, are ostentatiously wearing their poppies. It would be hard to find a public figure in England not wearing a poppy; someone not wearing a poppy stands out like a sore thumb.
"James McClean falls into that category. Playing for West Bromwich Albion, he came on as a substitute last week only to be booed by visiting Manchester City fans and by some home fans as they were playing in the Hawthornes.
"I think that is disgraceful. He has never made an issue of it but others have made it an issue. When questioned about his decision not to wear the poppy, he says that being from Derry, Bloody Sunday is still a reminder to him of the painful presence of British soldiers at that time.
"James McClean may not have been alive in 1972, but it would be very much part of his family narrative growing up. He shows great restraint, strength and integrity in enduring these annual taunts, but it must be very difficult and hurtful for him nonetheless," he told the congregation, who included President Michael D Higgins who laid a wreath at the war memorial in the cathedral.
For the first time, a member of Sinn Féin attended the ceremony at the Anglican cathedral.
Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald told the Irish Independent she was there because "I believe in respect and honour for our dead and I believe in forging ahead now in a very thoughtful, considered and determined way to unite people and to build reconciliation."
Elsewhere yesterday, a reception was held at St Mary's Pro Cathedral in Dublin for the new Papal Nuncio to Ireland, Archbishop Jude Thaddeus Okolo, the first African priest to hold the Church's most senior diplomatic role in the State.