A well-known SDLP figure has urged fellow nationalists to try wearing a poppy this year.
“You might feel more comfortable than you imagine doing it,” said Liam Logan, the chair of the party’s North Down branch.
Mr Logan was speaking after Frank Feighan, a Fine Gael TD from Co Roscommon, announced he would wear a poppy in the Dail.
He yesterday became the first Irish parliamentarian to wear the emblem in the Dail for 16 years.
The symbol commemorates British military dead and benefits the wounded personnel and bereaved relatives.
Mr Feighan pointed out that 49,000 Irish soldiers died in the First World War alone, and that nearly a third of men of military age signed up.
Many nationalists from the north fought and died in regiments like the Connaught Rangers, based in Mr Feighan’s home town of Boyle.
“I don’t think it reduces me as an Irishman to acknowledge that so many Irish people died in both World Wars,” Mr Logan told the Belfast Telegraph.
He has been wearing a poppy, usually the smaller enamelled version. “I wore it last Sunday to Mass in Bangor where there were other people with poppies on. I wore it on Monday night to attend a talk on the Falls Road, and I normally wear it to my party’s annual conference. Nobody has ever said anything unpleasant to me about it,” he said. The Falls Road event was held in An Cultúrlann McAdam O Fiaich, an Irish language cultural centre housed in a former Presbyterian church.
The lecture was on ‘Stereotypes of the First Word War’ and it was given by Dr Ian Adamson of the Ullans (Ulster Scots language) academy, of which Mr Logan is a member.
“History is always more complicated than you think, but politicians have a tendency to extract from it only the lessons that support their own political views,” Mr Logan added.
Many nationalist soldiers who fought in the World Wars complained that they suffered discrimination in the Republic because they had been in the British Army, and in the north because they were Catholics.
In recent years there have been attempts by people like Paddy Harte, the Donegal TD, to reclaim and retell their history.
Two years ago Margaret Ritchie (right) became the first SDLP leader to publicly wear a poppy when she attended the cenotaph in Downpatrick on Remembrance Sunday as a mark of respect “and to show it is OK to do so”.
This year she said she will probably buy one in Westminster, but hasn’t decided whether to wear it as she won’t be attending a ceremony.
A party spokeswoman said: “SDLP leader Alasdair McDonnell will attend the cenotaph this Sunday to pay his respects.
“People should be free to wear the poppy or not wear the poppy without fear of rebuke,” the spokeswoman added.