By David Norris

For over a century Ireland has struggled to honour the 46,647 men who died fighting for the British forces in WWI. Wearing a poppy has connotations and it can reignite some sensitive issues.

They didn’t have any such qualms in Milwaukee because they claimed that it was a local woman of Irish descent who invented the poppy in the first place.Her name was Mary Hanecy and it happened on 6th June, 1919.

The Armistice had been signed and the 120th Field Artillery (which had barracks in Milwaukee) had docked in Boston. Three trains were to take them back to Wisconsin, so an official celebratory homecoming was arranged.
This included a parade and a reception for all war veterans who had served in the U.S. 32nd Division (of which the field artillery formed a part) and the Community Reception Committee was asked to get the whole town decorated in a blaze of colour.

Mary Hanecy, as head of the Mothers’ Committee wanted to do her bit.

She was born Mary Ann Caldwell on 25th November, 1861, in Milwaukee to Irish parents. She married John Joseph Hennessey – also of Irish heritage – and went on to have four children before her firefighter husband was killed when a wall collapsed on him in 1910. Mary was left a widow, at which point she changed the spelling of her name.

Doing her bit for the parade entailed helping at a booth selling donuts and coffee. Other stalls were draped in red white and blue but hers was decorated with paper poppies. This was not as innovative as it may seem.

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own