James McClean’s poppy stance praised at remembrance event

Footballer shows ‘great restraint and integrity in enduring these annual taunts’

A fan points to his chest as he shouts at West Bromwich Albion’s James McClean, who is wearing a shirt without a poppy. Photograph: Reuters

Ireland international soccer player James McClean "is a national hero" because "he chooses not to wear a poppy", the annual Service of Remembrance at Dublin's St Patrick's Cathedral was told on Sunday. "I admire him for that," said Canon Peter Campion in a sermon.

Precentor of St Patrick’s Cathedral he recalled how “my grandfather and his two brothers fought in World War I”. It was why he wears a poppy each year “to remember him and his brothers, adding” I don’t expect people to admire me for wearing the poppy, but I hope they will respect my choice.”

Over the last 10 years “everyone on British television” was “ostentatiously wearing their poppies” so someone “not wearing a poppy stands out like a sore thumb. James McClean falls into that category,” he said.

Playing for West Bromwich Albion, "he came on as a substitute last week only to be booed" by Huddersfield Town fans and some of his own team's fans and "that is disgraceful," said Canon Campion.


James McClean “has never made an issue of it but others have made it an issue. 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.”

McClean “shows great restraint, strength and integrity in enduring these annual taunts, but it must be very difficult and hurtful for him nonetheless,” he said.


The Canon recalled how his grandfather, “upon returning from World War I, did not receive a hero’s welcome in Ireland, quite the opposite. He was often derided and scorned for his decision to enter the British Army”.

When a Service of Remembrance was held at St Patrick’s Cathedral “at the end of the War, protestors outside the entrance to the Cathedral voiced their opinions strongly”. His grandfather found it all “very hurtful”.

Fortunately, “as a nation we have moved on a great deal”. There were “no longer protests outside the Cathedral doors. It is always a privilege to welcome the President of Ireland to this service which would have been unheard of not so long ago.”

Due to the poem In Flanders Fields by Lieutenant John McCrea, with "its references to the red poppies that grew over the graves of fallen soldiers, that the remembrance poppy has become one of the world's most recognised symbols for soldiers who have died in conflict ," Canon Campion said.

He believed John McCrea would be horrified to think the poppy “could become a symbol of division, or national identity, or even a fashion statement. It is quite simply a symbol of memorial, of the grim reality of the terrible loss of life, the heroic and the selfless as well as the needless and thethoughtless.”

The President Michael D Higgins attended the Service and laid a wreath at the memorial in the Cathedral’s north transept. Lessons during the service were read by Minister for Justice and Equality Charlie Flanagan and Ceann Comhairle Séan Ó Fearghaíl.

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry is a contributor to The Irish Times