Almost three years ago in May 2011 very many people in Ireland watched in amazement as Elizabeth II, the Queen of Britain paid homage to Irish people who died fighting for freedom from the oppression of her country. This is a short post I made at that time:
Living in Ireland, it is hard to ignore the momentous events taking place in our country at the moment.
An Irish army officer at the President’s residence, announces Queen Elizabeth II – ”Banríon Eilís a Dó”.
A short time later, an Irish military band plays ‘God Save The Queen, the British national anthem. The location is one of the most iconic sites in Ireland – the Garden of Remembrance, dedicated to the memory of those who gave their lives in the cause of Irish Freedom. The President of Ireland and the British Monarch ascend the 22 steps to the memorial sculpture to lay wreaths.
The Queen steps forward to lay her wreath. She steps back, then bows her head in respect for those who died for freedom – died fighting against her country. It is a poignant moment.
The one minute’s silence that follows is intense and emotional; it brings a tear to many watching – whether present or watching on television. Kathy Sheridan in the Irish Times wrote: ”a host of old ghosts, dear and gentle, fierce and austere, hovered around a small, elderly woman, dressed in pretty ivory and sage, standing in homage before a sculpture inspired by the legend of the tragic Children of Lir and Yeats’s Easter 1916 ”
It was indeed a symbolism beyond words.
Today April 7, 2014, the President of Ireland makes the first state visit ever by an Irish head of State to the United Kingdom. It is a proud moment for the many tens of thousands of Irish people who, down the decades, have ‘taken the boat’ out of this country looking for new and better lives across the water. In that Kingdom they sought and they found employment and an escape from poverty. They worked on roads, construction sites, tunnels, building the infrastructure that made Britain, and most importantly, they sent money home to their families in Ireland. It is recognized that the money sent by migrant workers played a large part in the economic and social development of the Irish Republic.
Men and women from Ireland, be they ‘tatty-hokers’ navvies, radio or tv personalities, actors, authors, clerical workers, soccer players, doctors, nurses, IT consultants, hospitality workers, refuse collectors – have shaped that society and are happy to call it ‘home’. They live there happily without hangups or begrudgery. They are proud of their Irishness, and proud of their British localities. Their Irishness is not defined by an angry agenda based on long gone history such as that expounded by many of the Irish American diaspora. We in Ireland have moved on – we can look back at our history to see where we have been and learn from it, and we can look forward to changing the future still more.
Over the next few days, President Michael D Higgins as a guest of Queen Elizabeth and the people of the United Kingdom, is choosing to continue to change the future of our two nations. And once again, the symbolism will be beyond words.