A Church of Ireland minister has praised Republic of Ireland footballer James McClean for refusing to wear a poppy, describing him as a “national hero”.
During his Remembrance Day sermon in Dublin on Sunday, which was attended by Irish president Michael D Higgins and Sinn Fein’s Mary Lou McDonald, Canon Peter Campion told the St Patrick’s Cathedral congregation that McClean was understandably affected by the “painful presence of British soldiers” in his home city on Bloody Sunday.
McClean, who plays his club football for West Bromwich Albion, is the frequent target of abuse from sections of the opposition support in the English Premier League.
Canon Campion said: “When questioned about his decision not to wear the poppy, he says that being from Derry, Bloody Sunday is still a reminder to him of the painful presence of British soldiers at that time.
“James McClean may not have been alive in 1972, but it would be very much part of his family narrative growing up. He shows great restraint, strength and integrity in enduring these annual taunts, but it must be very difficult and hurtful for him nonetheless.”
Canon Campion added: “James McClean is a national hero. Though not known for his goal scoring prowess, he scored the one and only goal against Wales last month to propel Ireland into the play off to qualify for next year’s World Cup.
“James McClean also refuses to wear the poppy. I admire him for that.”
The clergyman said his own grandfather and two great-uncles “did not receive a heroes’ welcome in Ireland” after serving with the British Army during the First World War, and he described the poppy was “a symbol of memorial of the grim reality of the terrible loss of life”.
During the sermon he went on to say he believe that poet Lieutenant John McCrea – who penned ‘In Flanders Fields’ – would be horrified to think that the poppy “could become a symbol of division, or national identity, or even a fashion statement”.
He said: “In the last ten years everyone on British television, whether delivering the news, commentating on sports, X Factor judges and contestants, Strictly Come Dancing performers, you name it, are ostentatiously wearing their poppies.
“It would be hard to find a public figure in England not wearing a poppy; someone not wearing a poppy stands out like a sore thumb.”
During the service, a clip of which has been posted on the cathedral’s Facebook page, a poppy wreath and a green wreath are shown in the cathedral.
The Last Post is also played and the flag of the Republic is lowered slowly, alongside one bearing the emblem of the Union flag.