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Major Hume Grogan MBE
Late Irish Guards

Hume Grogan, former Irish Guards officer and charity administrator, was born on 28th October 1931. He died on 17th July 2021, aged 89.

It is said that Hume Grogan very nearly persuaded Mary McAleese to wear a poppy at her inauguration as president of Ireland on November 11, 1997. The ceremony coincided with the tenth anniversary of the Enniskillen bombing in Northern Ireland (also known as the Poppy Day massacre), when the Provisional IRA detonated a bomb near the town’s war memorial during the Remembrance ceremony, killing 11 people and injuring more than 60.

After the 1994 IRA ceasefire there had been a ceremony in Dublin to commemorate the 50th anniversary of VE Day, with representatives of both Sinn Fein and the Ulster Unionist Party present, and some thought the poppy could become the focus for a common act of reconciliation. The gesture would have been controversial, however. While the new president had declared her commitment to building bridges with the unionist community in Northern Ireland, many nationalists still saw the poppy as a symbol of British imperialism. In the words of one Irish journalist, it would have been ‘a Brit too far’.

At the time Grogan was Dublin representative of the Royal British Legion. His poppy advocacy was not primarily about reconciliation. ‘It is very unfortunate that the poppy has been waylaid by the unionists’, he told The Irish Independent. ‘It is really a symbol of remembrance that came from the poppies that grew in Flanders field’. More than 200,000 Irishmen had served in the First World War, a great many of them from what in 1922 became the Irish Free State, and some 35,000 from the south had been killed. After partition the five Irish infantry regiments that recruited in the south were disbanded, along with the South Irish Horse.

It was not only the First World War. In 1939 Ireland remained officially neutral, but 50,000 men and women from the south served with the British. Even after Ireland declared itself a republic in 1948, the contribution continued. Today, besides the Irish Guards, a third of the Royal Irish Regiment, whose headquarters are in Belfast, come from the republic.

Grogan himself had impeccable credentials for his advocacy of Irish remembrance, not least his lineage. Hume Meredyth Ellis Grogan was born in Plattenstown, Co Wexford, in 1931, the only son of Lieutenant-Colonel George Grogan, DSO, of the 18th Royal Irish Regiment. His mother, Eva, was from nearby Coolgreany.

Like many an old Irish family, the Grogans were occasionally of two minds. During the rebellion of 1798, Cornelius Grogan, an MP in the Irish parliament, fought for the rebels. His two younger brothers, one of whom was killed, wore the king’s coat. In a foretaste of the Easter Rising of 1916, Cornelius Grogan was arrested, tried by court martial and shot.

Hume Grogan was educated at prep school in Dublin and then at Wrekin College, Shropshire, followed by Harper Adams agricultural college. His agricultural prospects being uncertain, he enlisted in the Irish Guards in 1952 and went to the officer-cadet training unit at Eaton Hall in Cheshire.

One of his first jobs after commissioning, when the Irish Guards were training in Egypt, was to collect the shamrocks flown to Cairo for St Patrick’s Day. It proved a bureaucratic marathon, with Grogan going from one government department to another filling in forms and having to spend an extra night in the city. He only got the necessary clearance after agreeing to pay duty on each sprig, which at 1,000 sprigs was more money than the paymaster could command. Thereafter shamrocks were sent overseas via the diplomatic bag.

Back in England, his agricultural interests led to an invitation from the Queen Mother to visit the royal pig farm at Windsor. He subsequently arranged for pig slurry to be spread on the lawns outside the officers’ mess. The smell was so bad that the mess had to be evacuated.

Contemporaries remember Grogan as an old-school guardsman, moustachioed since an ensign, and possessed of great charm. He commanded a company in the Guards Armoured Brigade in the British Army of the Rhine in the 1960s and on active service in Aden but made his real mark commanding a training company at the Guards Depot at Pirbright, Surrey.

In 1962 he met Jennifer Rake at a drinks party in London. She was eleven years his junior and a trainee fashion buyer at Harrods. They married the following year at Holy Trinity Brompton. Jenny was a matchless cook. It was said that hostesses in Germany and Dublin would not hold a dinner party a month either side of one held by the Grogans. Jenny died in 2020. He is survived by their three children: Alice, a teacher and special needs co-ordinator; Susannagh, a fashion designer; and James, a businessman.

Growing deafness forced Grogan to leave the army in 1971. After the death of his father, his mother had married Arthur Donel MacMurrogh, The O’Morchoe, hereditary chief of Clan Murphy. She was widowed in 1966 and Grogan was at last able to put his agricultural training to use, running the family farm for the next 20 years.

In 1991 he became secretary of the Irish branch of the SSAFA, also taking on responsibility for the Royal British Legion in Ireland and combining their operations in one Dublin office. He subsequently reinvigorated several other charities under the same roof, notably the British Red Cross. Long after retiring in 2002 he was a SSAFA caseworker.

Although Lutyens’s Irish National War Memorial Gardens in Dublin had been renovated in 1988, Grogan found the annual summer wreath-laying ceremony somewhat neglected. The Troubles in Northern Ireland meant that he, like other ex-servicemen, had to tread carefully. Nevertheless, he set about improving matters. Today the ceremony is attended by hundreds of veterans, together with members of the government and the diplomatic community.

In 2001 Grogan was appointed MBE. Seeing no conflict in his loyalty to both the crown and the republic, he said he would prefer to receive the honour at the British embassy in Ireland rather than at Buckingham Palace. As a mark of additional respect, he was instead invested by Prince Michael of Kent at the Freemasons’ Hall in Dublin.

As Remembrance Sunday 2017 approached, Leo Varadkar, the taoiseach, broke the poppy taboo. During questions in the Dail he wore a lapel pin specially designed by the Royal British Legion in Ireland: the poppy superimposed on the shamrock and the scroll Lest We Forget. Varadkar said that ‘sometimes in the course of Irish history we’ve reinvented our history, and I think now that we’ve a decent distance from that period, we can perhaps be a little bit more honest about it’. He then went to Enniskillen to lay a wreath.

It was perhaps the fruits of Ireland’s ‘decade of commemorations, leading up to the centenary of 1922, the strikes of 1913, the First World War, the Easter Rising, the flu pandemic, the election of 1918 and the first Dail, and of President Higgins’s Machnamh (reflection, contemplation). In his own way, however, Grogan had helped to sow the poppy seeds.

With thanks to The Times

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