The Queen in Ireland: the power of forgiveness

Commentators on both sides of the Irish Sea are unanimous in declaring the Queen's four-day visit to Ireland, which ended this afternoon, an extraordinary triumph, one that opened hearts and shifted attitudes, laying ghosts to rest and opening up a new era of friendship for both nations.

Three of the key moments occurred on visits to historically resonant places. At the Garden of Remembrance, she bowed her head before a monument to those who died for Irish independence; she met footballers at Croke Park stadium, where the first 'Bloody Sunday' massacre in 1920 robbed Britain of its moral authority to rule Ireland; and at Islandbridge, she honoured the 49,000 Irish who died for the Crown during World War I.  


The first two recognised that Ireland's struggle to break free from the British crown had been legitimate, that British rule in Ireland had been often cruel. The third restored the memory of soldiers who were later seen as traitors to independence and shunned by independent Ireland.

Islandbridge was as important a symbolic moment for pro-Union Protestants in the North, just as her speech at a banquet at Dublin Castle on Wednesday night was an important moment of recognition of nationalist feeling.

The speech was beautifully judged – beginning with a greeting in Irish, A Uachtaráin agus a chairde ("President and friends"), provoking Mary McAleese, the Irish president, to say "wow" three times.

"To all those who have suffered as a consequence of our troubled past I extend my sincere thoughts and deep sympathy," the Queen said. "With the benefit of historical hindsight we can all see things which we would wish had been done differently or not at all."

The words had a particular poignancy because Lord Mountbatten, her husband’s uncle, was killed in an Irish Republican Army bombing while sailing off the west coast of Ireland in 1979.

It has been a long wait for this visit, the first time the Queen has visited the territory of Britain's closest neighbour. It was made possible by the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985, signed by Margaret Thatcher and Garret Fitzgerald (who with poignant timing died yesterday); and the Good Friday agreement signed by Tony Blair in 1998. The first paved the way for the second: by removing any notion of territorial ambition on the part of either nation, the two nations could leave the bitter 1970s behind.  

But it has still taken until now for this visit – possibly the most remarkable moment in the Queen’s career. It was certainly the most important political move she has made in her long reign.  

It has been a moment not just for burying past antagonisms, but of hope an for Ireland emerging from the despondency of economic catastrophe and institutional failure. The visit showcased the great beauty and history of the country; the machinery of state and society worked beautifully.  With the world's eyes on Ireland, they had much to be proud of.

It was a visit characterized by humility, dignity and generosity. It showed the power of healing and reconciliation, and the effect of heartfelt words and gestures. It was a compelling witness to what happens when two Christian nations throw off the weight of the past and embrace their common humanity.

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david power
7 years 8 months ago

@David and Crystal,

Why can't New York be declared a Jewish State?Why can't all of the holy land be declared Palestinian territory?For the simple reason that there are other people living there.
The majority of people in both the Republic of Ireland and the North of Ireland are against this "unity".
Should you not all be considered immigrants on the land you live in and the Native Americans the only ones with the right to call themselves citizens?

The reason it is joyous is because  the friendship between the Irish and English has been for a very long time a deep one.I have 12 aunts and Uncles living in England and their children are all English.
They went there in the 50's seeking work and they found it and built lives there and have never encountered bitterness but a great sympathy.
The Queen represents the English people and it is our way of recognizing the friendship.People are ready to move on   and only a fraction feel aggrieved at this stage. 
In America they would be the types with the confederate flag. 
Where there has been real hurt for so long and then we see many gestures over decades to heal the wounds ,a genuine forgiveness does not seek a song and dance. 
De Valera said that the English would come to Ireland as the most welcome of guests.Using the superlative to emphasize the special rank of those who had welcomed us.When he said this we were under English rule and so it was deemed 
as a provocation.It was not.The Irish rebels like Collins and Pearse would  have approved of this occasion. The last reported words of Michael Collins were "forgive them".
The Queen came as a most welcome guest. And Irish eyes were smiling.      
Vince Killoran
7 years 8 months ago
Did she actually apologize?
Todd Flowerday
7 years 8 months ago
The queen perceives where the bishops fumble in the dark. Her visit was appropriately symbolic, and touches on a certain level of public ritual that goes deeper than the literal.

'' ... provoking Mary McAleese, the Irish president, to say ''wow'' three times.''

When a bishop can make a speech, explicit apology included or not, and can evoke such a response from a survivor, then we will know the cover-up crisis is largely past us.
david power
7 years 8 months ago
This was a great visit and the Queen showed great class.
When she wore green everybody in Ireland saw it as a powerful statement and her few words in gaelic had the same effect.
Interestingly, her visit to Cork was more exemplary of the real Ireland and the people there gave her a fanstastic welcome and tried to encourage her.   
Some of the British media have been trying to portray it as "tense" when  in fact it was mainly joyous.

Crystal Watson
7 years 8 months ago
I'm not sure why it's joyous.  I do understand that it 's good to have an end to the violence, but it still seems to me that Ireland has lost a lot and is now supposed to be ok with that.  Maybe I'm missing the benefits to Ireland of this?
Crystal Watson
7 years 8 months ago

I do see your point.  The way the US took over Hawaii is another example.  I don't think the way Britain has been with the Irish compares well to Israel and the Palestinians, though.  Britian was an already  existing and  powerful empire that  decided o reach out and take over a neighboring country.   Israel was created by the United Nations, from land held, btw, by Britain, to give a home to people almost genocided out of existence.
david power
7 years 8 months ago
Crystal and David,

I was pumped full of propaganda as a child and this was in a Christian Brother's school.It was often subtle but you were to be in no doubt who the good guys were and who the bad guys were.
I see the same formation in many english people ,who like me ,were only given half the facts and so could only see half the reality.
It really is time to turn a page and rediscover what is unique in our shared culture and what unites us.  
People there today are facing life with less of an accent on identity politics and the tribalism that was so prevalent in the past is dying slowly.
BTW,Dominic Crossan who is from my neck of the woods said that "You have to admire the british sense of humour,they left India go but kept the North of Ireland". :)
david power
7 years 8 months ago

"Bury the Celts, eh?"

Bury only what is holding us back, and that is hatred.

Celts are found on both islands .There are no doubt more British Celts than Irish Celts.In the 4th Century when they all went to do missionary work in Europe they had no sense of difference. Pre-Nationalism .
Being a Christian was your citizenship.
We should hurry back to the future.   


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