The poppy is still a powerful symbol of suffering, especially in divided Europe
The following most evocative lines by the Canadian John McCrae bring home to everyone the immense tragedy of the two World Wars, and of war on all sides.
“In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row
That mark our place.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn and sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie. In Flanders fields.”
Some years ago, around this time, I visited the graduates club at McGill University in Montreal, and a framed copy of their graduate John McCrae’s poem underlined the universality of remembrance of the horror of war.
Back home this week, the survivors and their families commemorated the 30th anniversary of the no-warning Provisional IRA bomb at the Enniskillen Cenotaph on November 8, 1987.
This will be remembered always as the Poppy Day explosion, which so shocked people around the world that the then Russian President remarked about the ultimate savagery where people were not even allowed to mourn their dead in peace on the sacred ground that surrounds every cenotaph.
Today — November 11 — is one of the most sombre days in our annual calendar, when we remember the Armistice on the eleventh hour of the eleventh month.
We also think of the utter waste of the First World War when millions on all sides died because of the incompetence of the generals and the politicians, including Winston Churchill who takes the blame for the bloody disaster of the Dardanelles.
Tomorrow, there will be Remembrance Day services in churches and at cenotaphs throughout the British Isles and overseas, and at the centre of these will be the humble poppy.
In its own right, the poppy is a beautiful flower, and anyone who has seen the willowing poppies enriching the Flanders fields, as I have been privileged to do, will never forget such a poignant sight.
Sadly, the poppy still creates controversy among those who are not old enough or open-minded enough to appreciate its significance.
Whether or not a young soccer star, and others in and out of the public eye, decide not to wear a poppy is a matter for them.
They have every right to do so, but they should also acknowledge that thousands of men and women from across this island fought and died to allow them that freedom of choice.
The poppy remains a powerful symbol of remembrance and of the suffering of so many servicemen and women in times of war.
And I am glad that the Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, gave a clear example by wearing an Irish version of the poppy in the Dail this week.
The sacrifice of two World Wars was made by those who wanted a greater and more peaceful Europe but I wonder, if they were alive, what they would think of the Europe we find ourselves in today.
Everywhere, right-wing nationalism seems to be rearing its head, and those who want to leave the nation-state of the EU, with all its faults, have not outlined to the rest of us the benefits of independence — whether it is the UK, or Scotland, or Catalonia.
Back home, the deaths of people on all sides continue to prompt stark questions about our hapless politicians who are still unable to broker a lasting peace.
Questions are also asked about the motives and intelligence of the people here who say they want peace but who continually vote in politicians who are endlessly locked in conflict.
Many brave people have risen above the violence and have pointed to a better way, and there was no human being finer than the agonised and bereaved Gordon Wilson.
When asked about those who had murdered his daughter Marie and the others at Enniskillen’s Cenotaph, he said: “I bear no ill will”, and the words came from the bottom of his heart.
What a tribute it would be to Gordon, and so many who have suffered, if all our politicians and those who elected them, were to pause, to say sincerely “ I bear no ill will”, and to work out and live out a peace in the memory of all our dead and injured.
That would truly be a Remembrance which would speak to all our hearts — and to the future of our children and grandchildren.