Tuesday 22 October 2019

Liz Kearney: 'I don't need a poppy to think of my grandad'


Limited edition centenary poppies are made at the Lady Haig Poppy Factory in Edinburgh. Photo: PA
Limited edition centenary poppies are made at the Lady Haig Poppy Factory in Edinburgh. Photo: PA
Liz Kearney

Liz Kearney

I've never considered wearing a poppy, but the annual fracas about who's wearing it and who's not saddens me.

Like so many Irish people, my own family history contains conflict and contradictions, and the question of identity is never far from my mind. My grandfather was born in Ballinrobe, Co Mayo, in 1900 and as a young man, studying for his medical degree at University College Galway, he was ordered by the Black and Tans to doff his cap for 'God Save The King' in the college quadrangle.

He refused, telling his student pals: "They can't shoot all of us, lads."

But they jailed them instead, for several weeks, letting them out a few months later when it was time to sit their medical finals.

He later moved to England, and was working as a GP near Manchester when World War II broke out.

My grandfather believed that if you made your living in a country you ought to fight for it as well, so he joined the British army and spent much of the war thousands of miles away from his wife and young family.

He was captured on the Greek island of Leros and forced to work as a prisoner of war in a German hospital, which he later said was the most efficient he'd ever seen. And in 1943 he was awarded the MBE for his efforts in the Eighth Army's North Africa campaign, evacuating troops from the desert.

Just last week, we came across the citation online: "Major May's willing and intelligent co-operation with all concerned has earned the highest praise," it read - and it was signed off by none other than General Montgomery, the British war hero whose own family originally hailed from Donegal.

There is so much in this story that is contradictory, but what's new?

As a child, I was teased for my English accent, inherited from my parents, who were themselves ribbed for being "Irish" growing up in Britain.

Later, as a teenager I held a British passport on which a school friend once jokingly scrawled something unprintable about the queen.

Today I feel Irish - I am Irish - but my Irishness includes much that is British.

I won't be wearing the poppy this week, and it ought to go without saying that James McClean and all those who choose not to wear one shouldn't even have to explain themselves.

But I will be remembering my grandad who I never met, imprisoned not once but twice - once for standing up to the British, and once for being British - both times fighting for what he thought was right.

Another crash would stop the traffic chat...

There is a price to pay for high employment and a buoyant economy: the return of the competitive traffic jam.

"It took me two hours to get from the Red Cow to the N11," I told a colleague this morning.

"Pah," he said with a look of disdain. "It took me three hours to get to Naas." If it keeps raining this week, China's famous 11-day traffic jam will begin to look like a good day on the M50.

Back before the Celtic Tiger, people used to say Londoners were obsessed with the traffic in a way Irish people just didn't get.

Today, the roles are reversed. My London pals have relatively short commutes, typically via the Tube or on their bikes.

Here in Dublin, most people spend at least an hour travelling to and fro on buses and trains and cars.

Would it be foolish to wish for another crash, just so we could park the traffic jam chat?

Irish Independent

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