Opinion Editorial

Tuesday 17 September 2019

Editorial: 'Signs that hope and history can sometimes rhyme'

Mr Higgins delivered his politically sensitive Armistice Day speech just hours before he was formally installed as Uachtarán na hÉireann for another seven-year term. Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire
Mr Higgins delivered his politically sensitive Armistice Day speech just hours before he was formally installed as Uachtarán na hÉireann for another seven-year term. Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire
Editorial

Editorial

Sometimes we do get things right in this country - even if it takes us many decades. Take President Michael D Higgins's speech yesterday to mark the centenary of that "war to end all wars", which concluded on the 11th hour, of the 11th day, in the 11th month precisely one century ago.

The President's words about our "collective amnesia" over the 1914-1918 conflict tapped into the already considerable, but belated, realisation across Ireland that we must honour the Irish who served and died in that most appalling conflict.

More than 200,000 people from across Ireland served and up to 49,000 of them died. That was, and remains, the biggest ever military engagement involving Irish people.

We have to get over the reality that those Irish people wore British uniforms. This truly was a "world war" involving 32 countries and 70 million military personnel. We must put it into a European, and indeed, a global context.

World War I enmeshed with Ireland's 1916 rebellion and the subsequent War of Independence. In some ways, as various versions of history were recounted by nationalists who felt they were victors, it is not too surprising that we could not find space to honour the Irish engaged in the 'Great War'.

But that time is well passed. Let's forever park the rows about whether or not to wear a poppy to commemorate this landmark in Irish, European, and world history. In the end that one comes down to individual choice.

So, let us respect those who feel they can, and also those who believe they cannot, wear the poppy.

Let us also note that the "Irish poppy" is a good political compromise. But in the end of it all, this is just a detail.

Let us simply focus on one point: we must remember and revere those people. They acted in all honesty for a wide variety of reasons, which in the context of those times seemed valid. We must never impose contemporary values on their personal decisions over a century ago.

Mr Higgins delivered his politically sensitive Armistice Day speech just hours before he was formally installed as Uachtarán na hÉireann for another seven-year term. There are some tricky dates coming up in Ireland's centenary of commemorations.

As a nation, helped by the President's wisdom and political judgment, we managed an inclusive and sensitive commemoration of the 1916 Rising. Now comes the tricky part.

How do we mark the centenary of the establishment of the Northern Ireland parliament and administration? What about the Civil War which turned family members against one another?

We will look to President Michael D Higgins to help guide us.

Irish Independent

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