One of the more revealing and bizarre images from our struggle to come to terms with our past, to finally be at ease with all its dark challenges, is the picture of a group of protestors at Croke Park when England played there 11 years ago. One protestor waved a placard insisting there should be “No foreign games in Croke Park”. The protestor was no doubt sincere but the fact that he wore a Glasgow Celtic shirt suggests that his view was emotional rather than rational.
The same issues and our responses to them are in play every year when the debate about wearing a poppy to remember the 35,000 Irish people who died in the First World War resurfaces. It is progress of a kind that there is even a debate — not so very long ago wearing a poppy was a risky expression of a respect silenced by strident nationalism.
All of these issues are brought into sharp focus, domestically and internationally, by the shameful paint-bomb attack on the WWI sculpture The Hauntings Soldier which was lent to Dublin by its creators, Dorset-based blacksmith Martin Galbavy and Chris Hannam. The piece was so obviously an expression of deep regret and a marrow-deep rejection of the horrors of war that it was utterly apolitical in its rejection of the belligerent nationalism that sparked that catastrophe.
This attack represents an ignorant, minority view and it will encourage those who would depict this as an embittered, insular and warped society — tragedy heaped upon tragedy.