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Ireland reconsiders how it honors WWI veterans

Until recently, Ireland had not commemorated its dead who fought in the British army.

A woman places a poppy on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the National War Memorial in Ottawa, Nov. 11, 2009. More Irish might start honoring their war dead the same way. (Chris Roussakis/Reuters)

DUBLIN, Ireland ― A small ceremony in a rainy Dublin cemetery this week marked a significant step in Ireland’s improving relations with its larger neighbor, Great Britain.

A headstone was unveiled on Wednesday in the presence of British and Irish officials to a homeless Dubliner called Martin Carr, who died in 1916 from wounds when fighting for the British Army in the First World War. Before now his resting place in Glasnevin Cemetery was simply known as UG (unknown grave) 481/2.

The ceremony was an attempt to come to terms with the totality of Irish history.

Until recently Ireland gave scant recognition to the 50,000 Irishmen and women who died in World War I in British military uniforms.

On Armistice Day every November, British people wear an artificial red poppy to remember the First World War dead, but in Ireland wearing the poppy is often seen as expressing British rather than Irish nationalist sympathies.

However, a taboo on wearing the poppy in public may be weakening somewhat in the improving atmosphere between the two countries following the peace process in Northern Ireland.

Given the bitterness of the struggle for Irish independence from Britain, there was traditionally a “reluctance” in Ireland to commemorate those who fell in the British forces, said John Green of Glasnevin Trust, which erected the headstone for Carr and three other fallen Irish soldiers in different parts of the vast cemetery.

They plan to erect 90 such headstones before the end of the year to servicemen and women buried in paupers' graves in different parts of the cemetery.

Glasnevin is a sacred site for Irish nationalists, and the honoring of British war dead there is a sensitive issue.

Many noted patriots are among the 1.5 million people interred in Glasnevin since it was established in 1832 for the purpose of burying "people of all religions and none."

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/ireland/091113/irish-veterans-poppies