Friends and equals
Queen's historic speech cements our special relationship
Published 19/05/2011 | 05:00
QUEEN Elizabeth last night ushered in a new era in relations between Ireland and Britain.
In a historic speech at the state banquet in Dublin Castle on the second day of her visit, the queen won plaudits by beginning her address in Irish, saying: "A hUachtarain agus a chairde."
As expected, the queen did not apologise for the history of atrocities under British rule in her speech at the dinner held in her honour and attended by President Mary McAleese, Taoiseach Enda Kenny and British Prime Minister David Cameron.
However, she did acknowledge the troubled history saying it was a "a sad and regrettable reality" that our countries had experienced "heartache, turbulence and loss".
"These events have touched us all, many of us personally, and are a painful legacy. We can never forget those who have died or been injured or their families.
"To all those who have suffered as a consequence of our troubled past I extend my sincere thoughts and deep sympathy," she said.
"With the benefit of historical hindsight we can all see things which we would wish had been done differently or not at all," she added.
Mrs McAleese said it was only right that the historic visit should see reflection on "the difficult centuries which have brought us to this point".
"Inevitably where there are the colonisers and the colonised, the past is a repository of sources of bitter division. The harsh facts cannot be altered nor loss nor grief erased; but with time and generosity, interpretations and perspectives can soften and open up space for new accommodations," she said.
Mrs McAleese said the visit was an important sign that the two countries had embarked on the fresh start envisaged in the Good Friday Agreement.
She told the queen her visit was a formal recognition that Ireland and Britain "are neighbours, equals, colleagues and friends".
"Though the seas between us have often been stormy, we have chosen to build a solid and enduring bridge of friendship between us and to cross it to a new, happier future," she said.
The queen also said she and her husband, Prince Philip, were delighted to be in Ireland and to "experience at first hand Ireland's world famous hospitality".
She highlighted the legacy of the Good Friday Agreement, the success of which was helping to bring stability and peace to Northern Ireland and ultimately made her visit possible.
"The lessons from the peace process are clear -- whatever life throws at us, our individual responses will be all the stronger for working together and sharing the load," she said.
As with all state dinners, the queen wore some of her finest jewellery -- the Queen Mary tiara, a gift to her grandmother Queen Mary from the "girls of Great Britain and Ireland".
"The strong relationship between Ireland and Britain is reflected in the fact that many people in the UK had relatives across the Irish Sea," she said.
"Many British families have members who live in this country, as many Irish families have close relatives in the United Kingdom," she said.
"These families share the two islands; they have visited each other and have come home to each other over the years.
"They are the ordinary people who yearned for the peace and understanding we now have between our two nations and between the communities within those two nations; a living testament to how much in common we have."
Also among the guests were former Taoisigh Albert Reynolds, Brian Cowen and Bertie Ahern.
Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson was accompanied by his wife, Iris Robinson, who was making her first public appearance since revelations of an affair last year.
The guest list also included Ireland rugby captain Brian O'Driscoll and his actress wife Amy Huberman; British Foreign Secretary William Hague; Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore and a wide range of political and church figures from North and South.
On a second day of significant gestures, the queen visited Croke Park, the GAA headquarters where 14 people were killed by British forces on Bloody Sunday in 1920.
At Croke Park, GAA president Christy Cooney told the queen her visit to the stadium honoured the association.
The queen also attended a commemoration ceremony to the Irish soldiers who died in World War One at the war memorial in Islandbridge.
Today the queen goes to Kildare for a visit to the National Stud and is then back to Dublin for an event in the National Convention Centre.
On his first official visit to Ireland since becoming prime minister, Mr Cameron said the queen's visit showed enormous sensitivity to past issues.
"I think everyone back in the UK has been very struck by the pictures and the scenes and the warm welcome that she's had and I think this visit will set the seal on what is already a very strong relationship between our two countries," he said.