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Ritchie’s poppy gesture showed real courage

As an Englishman living in Dublin since 1968 who has honoured the dead on Remembrance Sunday, occasionally wearing a poppy (once inadvertently at Leopardstown Races) and often not, I do not underestimate the moral and political courage of Margaret Ritchie, MP, leader of the SDLP, in wearing a poppy at the Remembrance ceremony in Downpatrick on Sunday.

This is a great act of reconciliation towards the unionist community in Northern Ireland and, indeed, towards all those in Northern Ireland who still mourn the dead of the two world wars and, sadly now, the dead in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Specially commendable, in my opinion, are the words of Pat Convery, Lord Mayor of Belfast, who reminds us that the dead we remember with such pride and sorrow are from ‘the whole island of Ireland, not just a small section of that island'.

The heroic sacrifice of those from the Twenty-Six Counties, officially (and surely rightly) neutral in 1939-1945 in the fight against Nazi Germany, has still to be properly acknowledged, and I hope that in this new climate of reconciliation we shall at last be able to pay them the honour that is their due.

Gavin Hughes (Banbridge) and myself have taken a small step in doing this in editing a series of essays entitled Southern Ireland and the Liberation of France: New Perspectives, due to be published by Peter Lang later this month.



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