While we haven’t universally embraced wearing the poppy in this country, we generally respect people’s right to observe Remembrance Sunday. However, in the 1920s and 1930s here, it was a very different story.
HIstorian, Donal Fallon, wrote a piece for our programme detailing how Remembrance Sunday events in the early years of the Irish Free State were a frequent source of ideological conflict and political violence.
Remembrance Sunday in the 1920s and 1930s
by Donal Fallon
Ten years after rebellion on the streets of the capital, 40,000 Dubliners crowded into the area around the Wellington memorial at the Phoenix Park in 1926. They were marking Armistice Day. Some were members of the British Legion, others were the widows and orphans of men who hadn't returned from the Great War, and there were others still in the crowd.
The Irish Times wrote of this gathering of the park that:
It would be hard, indeed, to estimate the size of the gathering. It did not, however, number less than forty thousand. From an early hour people began to arrive by every kind of vehicle and on foot, and an hour before the ceremony began the wide open space in the Phoenix Park surrounding the Wellington Monument was densely crowded.
Newspaper reports at the time noted that a perfect silence followed the Last Post, and “so deeply impressive it was that when one closed one’s eyes to pray one felt alone in the vast acres’ of the park.” Yet Remembrance Day was not perfectly observed in the city, as some republican elements organised protests around the events, something which had been occurring in the years before 1926, and would escalate in the 1930s, with the IRA organising protests under the auspices of the Anti-Imperialist League. Frank Ryan, an active left-wing republican, believed that the British Legion marchers of the day were drawn mainly from “bank clerks and students of Trinity College”, but it was clear on the streets they came from all classes and districts.
The popularity of Armistice Day, or ‘Poppy Day’, is evident from sales of the remembrance poppy in Dublin in the 1920s. It was claimed by the British Legion that tens of thousands of poppies were sold in the Dublin area in 1924. This was at a time before the British Legion had even opened an office in Dublin, which they did in 1925. It was late October of 1925 when the poppy was formally launched in Ireland, something which led republican women to the creation of the Easter lily in 1926, as an ‘alternative’ symbol, though the popularity of the Easter Lily never even approached that of the Poppy. In the inaugural year of the symbol, we know from Cumann na mBan’s own Annual Reports that only £34 was raised from sales of the lily, pittance when contrasted with the £7,430 evident from the “Annual Report of the Southern Ireland Area of the British Legion”, documenting poppy sales.
In the 1930s Republicans organised 'alternative' Remembrance Sunday parades, with the left-wing republican congress calling on maimed, injured and poverty-stricken veterans of the British Army to parade through the city in anti-war defiance. Yet many more Dubliners continued to attend 'official' commemorations of the conflict. Remembrance Sunday remained a battlefield right throughout that decade.
Come Here to Me! Dublin's Other History is a blog run by Donal Fallon together with fellow historians, Sam McGrath and Ciaran Murray.