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Rhyme & Reason

THIS week is the 99th anniversary of the beginning of World War One, the memory of which is commemorated each year on Poppy Day, November 11.

Over 200,000 Irish soldiers served in that terrible war. The majority were from the south. It didn't matter which side of the border they came from; their record for bravery in the field was astonishing.

The Victoria Cross, the highest award for valour you could get, was won by 37 Irishmen, a higher percentage than any other country achieved. A rugby club I played for in Dublin, believe it or not, had three members who had won the VC: Frederick Harvey in World War One, Robert Johnston and Tom Crean in the Boer War. How amazing an achievement this was, can be seen from Second World War stats which confirm that out of all the rugby clubs in Great Britain only one VC was won by a member.

The Ireland I grew up in had a seam of ex-servicemen from the First and Second World Wars running through its society.

Of course, at the end of World War One a number of discharged soldiers had come back to our own Emerald Isle and just changed uniforms to fight for the IRA for the freedom of Ireland; men like Captain Emmet Dalton who had won the Military Cross in the trenches at 18 years of age and went on to be a key figure in winning the guerrilla war on the streets of Dublin.

It is encouraging that we have arrived at a stage today where old barriers have been removed so that truth and friendship can grow. But we should always honour those who made it for us whether in khaki or a green uniform.

Captain Robert Graves, the Irish poet who refused a decoration because of his disgust with war, has left a fine poem addressed to a dead German soldier which expresses the futility of war no matter on which side you are fighting.