Respect for the fallen.

Respect for the dead is a basic concept among humans.

It was once thought to be unique to humans-something that sets us apart from animals.  Recent discoveries by scientists have found that, for example, African elephants memorialise their dead. They all pass by in line the dead member of the herd and they touch the body of their relative with their trunks.

In this part of the world a minute’s silence is the culturally accepted standard by which someone shows their respect for the dead.

In recent years the “minutes applause” has come in from Southern Europe.

Like all matters cultural it is not amenable to reason. I have discussed this matter with Italian friends as they look at me and they don’t get why I don’t get it.

I was reared with the minute of quiet respect and contemplation for the dead and that is what I am comfortable with.

Of course, I fully respect that a crowd of Italians bursting into applause is their way of showing respect to the person who has passed to the place we all, eventually, go.

What is the other side of that divide is one of the mysteries of life.

For me there is nothing, oblivion. For others it is, merely a passing through to another world where their consciousness remains.

I don’t share that view of life eternal, but I respect those who hold to that view.

Whatever one’s view of where the deceased finally goes the respect for that person is always non negotiable.


If one cannot, for whatever reason, show that respect you absent yourself-quietly.

A few years ago I was appalled at the behaviour of some Barcelona fans who thought it was an appropriate time to revisit the cultural wounds of the Spanish Civil war as Celtic Park observed a minute’s silence for the dead of the Madrid bombings.

It wasn’t Catalonia’s finest hour that’s for sure.

On Sunday a small number of Celtic supporters in Falkirk disgraced themselves and ipso facto their club.

I was not at the match nor did I watch it on TV.

I was travelling up the country from Mayo to Donegal during the match, but the facts seem well established.

The Celtic support inside the Falkirk stadium observed the minute’s silence.

Outside was another story entirely.

Just whom did these chaps think they were disrespecting?

For disrespect is what they were about.

Who then was the target of this bile?

The deceased British Empire?

Hardly worth it these days as the tribesmen of the Hindu Kush give them a final battering like an old heavyweight who doesn’t know when to call time.

Perhaps these Celtic supporters thought that their disrespectful noise during the minute’s silence would strike a blow against Britain’s presence in Ireland?

I have no idea how they would seek to justify their behaviour.

I hope I don’t get to find out, as I certainly don’t want to meet them.

Remembrance Sunday was created, initially, to preserve the memory of the dead of the Great War.

It was not to remember the General Melchett’s safe in their Château planning the next bungling slaughter, but the innocent boys who went over the top into the meat grinder of the Western Front.

Last Sunday was also my son’s 17th birthday.

As a treat he had asked that he and a few of his mates go quad biking here in Donegal.

His old dad duly obliged and got a carload up them up above Buncrana in Inishowen where an enterprising farmer has found there is more money in quad bikes than cattle.

As they came of the track splattered in mud with the natural cheerfulness of young men I looked at them and thought that because of their age and their physique they were fairly typical of the boys that stained the Flanders mud Poppy red.

It is many years since I stopped in Flanders for the day with a climbing buddy on the way to the Alps to gaze across the acres and acres of white crosses.

It is a memory that doesn’t leave you easily.

Every one of those marks a lad like my son and his buddies.

Lives hardly started.

My mate had lost his grandfather at the Somme.

It was something I couldn’t share.

Although firm friends and united in the love of the mountains we tackled it is where the West of Ireland and the Western Isles had a different path in the 20th century.

My grandfather was  “out” in Easter that year and later in the West Mayo Flying Column. It was a difference in our family background that we both acknowledged and respected.

I think my grandfather was on the right side of history, but doesn’t mean I can’t see the heroism and basic humanity of those who served Britain.

1916 leader James Connolly as he awaited execution by a British firing squad said that he  “respected all men who did their duty according to their lights.”

That works for me.

“Respect” is the key idea there.

For too long Ireland forgot her war dead because they had worn the uniform of the enemy.

I have written here recently about the ambiguity and confusion that the Poppy and Remembrance Day has for Irish people given our history as a British colony and the fight for independence.

Like all national liberation struggles Ireland fight in the early 20th century it was brutally asymmetrical. Britain’s “counter insurgency” forces in rural Ireland in those terrible years were a stain on the reputation of the British military.

Subsequently, anyone of our own who had served the British Crown in those years were immediately suspect as traitors.

Even with independence won those who had served in the British forces and had died were quietly forgotten.

That was wrong although given the circumstances understandable.

The role of the British military in Ireland from the New Model Army to the Paras in Derry has been a litany of shame and criminality.

In the Republic no one is alive who could remember British soldiers in the streets of the 26 counties during the war of Independence.

This generational change allows a people, a society, to move on.

The British are gone from Mayo and Donegal and thankfully they’re not coming back.

Journalists who cover this area reliably inform me that there are still members of the British Special Forces still operating in the North now. Maybe they will again kill in the Six Counties.

Obviously I hope that does not happen just as I hope that the few deranged misfits with weapons stop trying to oppose the British presence with physical force.

However, while Britain has jurisdiction in the North there is always that likelihood that lives will be lost through state violence.

I fully respect the nationalist people in the North to have their own views on this issue. The Poppy and Remembrance to become sectarianised in the Six Counties in a fashion that would have appalled those who started the Royal British legion.

This “Poppy fascism” has been imported into the West of Scotland as part of a PR war between the two Glasgow clubs.

It devalues what the Poppy should represent in a way that is quite tragic.

In the Republic of Ireland the view of those Irishmen who died in the service of the British Crown has evolved and developed over the past 30 years.

For me this is a positive development and one that puts some of the baggage of the past where it belongs.

In the past.

So on last Sunday all over the 26 Counties there were commemorations, silent and dignified, of those Irishmen who died for Britain.

Most of those remembered in Ireland on Remembrance Sunday died in the Great War although young Irishmen continue to die for Britain.

Not everyone agrees with this new development, but they had the common decency to stay away.

Such basic good manners seem to be absent among a small knot among the travelling support of Celtic in Scotland.

Despite the respectful silence inside the Falkirk stadium the voices of the “protestors” outside the ground could be clearly heard.

It was a calculated insult to better men than them.

I hope next year these fine fellows will have evolved just enough to know that those who remember the fallen have long memories and it is proper to stay silent or stay away.

Either works for me

Leave a Reply