Liamy Mac Nally
There was a moment just after Queen Elizabeth 11 laid a wreath at the Garden of Remembrance. She stepped back and bowed her head. She said nothing. The gesture and the silence spoke volumes. It was a moment of at-one-ment. Here was an 85-year-old woman expressing something that words could not capture. Silent atonement.
Words would have reduced the significance of the act. Perhaps the moment was not meant to have an effect on people but many people claim that the utter solemnity of that gesture was deeply moving. It was as if people could breathe again. For some, it was a shaking off of a colonial shackle that had shadowed them for years. The irony is that it was made possible by the symbolic head of that colonial baggage!
Many people were impressed with the graciousness that surrounded the visit. This elderly woman and her even older husband rose to every occasion during the visit. That the visit was one of Queen Elizabeth’s life’s ambitions also said much. She too made reference to how her family was affected directly by the conflict that has enveloped both nations. The Queen’s visit has not and will not be a panacea to cure all colonial ills but it is a marker on the reconciliation road linking Ireland and Britain.
Many people were delighted with the Queen’s visit, especially that it had ‘gone off so well.’ At the same time, there were those with misgivings – not necessarily the Premier football jersey-clad lugs who used the occasion to have a crack at the Gardaí. Some people felt deeply that the visit was wrong because they had been wounded by the empire’s hallmark of death and destruction over the years. Others were genuinely concerned over ongoing tactics employed by the PSNI and others and the fate of some Irish people in Northern jails. The hope is that now that a ‘new relationship’ has developed between both Ireland and Britain misgivings about issues in the north can be brought to attention more quickly and resolved more readily. Questions over British collusion in the Dublin bombings might also find a better ear. An Taoiseach summed up the visit: “The Irish harp glittered above the heart of the English Queen. With pride and happiness, and two words of Irish, we closed a circle of our history. A cháirde.”
President Mary MacAleese and her husband Martin also played a central role with praise for Martin MacAleese on his contact with loyalist paramilitaries. The President impressed, not just with style but also with content. She was in noble form throughout the visit.
No sooner had the Queen departed than President Barack Obama was due to land. With another four years beckoning it was fitting that he discovered his Irish roots – more genuine than many previous Presidential claims! His visit was like the proverbial breath of fresh air. Actor Brendan Gleeson put it well when he said that he was tired of looking at the ground. Both state visits raised the national gaze. President Obama had his usual good line, this time it was about his ancestry. He came “home to find the apostrophe that we lost somewhere along the way.”
The receptions he received in Dublin and Moneygall were testament to his popularity. His brief visit will be remembered for a long time. In his Dublin speech he paid tribute to former Taoiseach, Garret Fitzgerald, who died some days previously. Mayo priest, Fr Enda McDonagh, led the funeral Mass of Garret Fitzgerald - one friend paying a heartfelt tribute to another.
Two state visits and a state funeral all occurred in one week. It was a week in which An Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, played a central role and excelled. It appears as if the Mayoman has his finger on the pulse of the nation! Let’s hope it stays there! There are still tough times to come!
What will happen if the French Finance Minister, Christine Lagarde, takes over as head of the IMF? She is no friend of our corporation tax rate yet the government appears to be fawning in its support for her elevation. Is it because she might change? Or is it that there will be less pressure from the EU with her nibs ensconced in New York? The reality of the EU loan remains –the loanshark EU Sarkozys and Merkels are unashamedly fleecing this country for wrongs it did not commit. We are paying 3 per cent above the odds to bail us their fellow countrymen and women. An Taoiseach must know what he is doing by not creating a song and dance against these Europhiles.
If Enda Kenny can weave his royal and presidential flair on Europe he would make a lasting impression. At-one-ment, a cháirde.