We wore a poppy in November – and a lily at Easter

Family Fortunes: We honoured those killed in the first World War – and in Croke Park

Members of the defence forces pass the GPO during the ceremony commemorating the 100th Anniversary of the Easter Rising 1916 on Dublins O’Connell Street. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

Members of the defence forces pass the GPO during the ceremony commemorating the 100th Anniversary of the Easter Rising 1916 on Dublins O’Connell Street. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

 

A hundred years ago this week my Dad (Pte Louis Nelson RDF) was no doubt jubilant, with his comrades in the trenches of Flanders, to learn the Great War was over. He had enlisted with the Royal Dublin Fusiliers in 1915 and was assigned to the British Expeditionary Force posted to Flanders in spring 1918 to combat the German “spring offensive”. Dad most likely had to remain in Flanders for the after-war “clean-up”, as he was not demobilised until March 1919.

The following year, another page of history was being cast in Dublin. In November 1920, British security forces opened fire on spectators at the Dublin-Tipperary match in Croke Park; 14 people were shot dead. It was “Bloody Sunday”. One of the 14 killed on that day was 20-year-old Joseph (Joe) Traynor, shot in the back and as he tried to escape over the wall at the canal end of the park.

As fate would have it, some years later Louis Nelson happened to meet “Ciss” Traynor – sister to Joe Traynor. Ciss was the eldest sibling of the family of four children remaining after the death of their older brother Joe. Louis and Ciss were married in the 1930s, and had two boys – myself and my brother Noel.

We stood proudly while Dad, wearing his war medals and red poppy, held his hat to his chest

Because of Dad’s British Army background, initially he was not exactly welcomed with open arms into the Traynor republican family. In fact, Ciss’s parents didn’t attend the wedding of their eldest daughter. It was some years later, when Ciss’s father, Michael, was seriously ill, that Louis took it upon himself to visit him at home – a visit that changed the Nelson-Traynor relationship for the better.

My brother Noel and I grew up in a household of mixed traditions. As young boys we well remember in the 1940s and 1950s attending the annual Commemoration Sunday services at the Memorial Gardens in Islandbridge, Dublin with our Dad. We stood proudly as the last post was sounded while Dad, wearing his war medals and red poppy, held his hat to his chest remembering those with whom he had served in Flanders.

Meanwhile, every Easter, we again proudly stood with our Mum wearing her tri-coloured ribbon and Easter lily, as we attended the annual military services at the GPO – she remembering the tragic death of her brother Joe, when she was only 18 years old.

One might say Noel and I had a well-balanced up-bringing – a chip on both shoulders!

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