independent

Thursday 24 April 2014

Men of peace salve the pain of Boyne Battle

THE Battle of the Boyne site was the scene of a further cementing of cross-border relations yesterday by Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and the North's First Minister Ian Paisley.

The two leaders, meeting for the second time in three days, spoke of the historic importance of the site, but said now was a time for healing wounds and looking towards a better shared future for both parts of the island.

They joined in a symbolic marking of the past at a spot where much of the sectarian differences which have plagued Northern Ireland had their origins in 1690.

But it was time to move one, they said.

Musket

Mr Paisley, making his first official visit to the Republic since his recent appointment at Stormont, presented the Taoiseach with a musket which dates back to 1685. It was used in both the Battle of the Boyne and the siege of Derry.

The DUP leader was keeping a promise made to Mr Ahern to visit the site where the armies of William of Orange and King James II clashed violently in the Co Meath countryside.

"Instead of reverberating to the roar of cannon fire, the charge of men, the shot of musket or the clash of sword steel, today we have tranquillity of still water where we can contemplate the past and look forward to the future," said Mr Paisley.

The Taoiseach said: "We cannot change what went before on this ground or across these islands but history can make many turns, and today in this special place for our history it is another good day."

At the crucial talks in St Andrews last autumn which foreshadowed the final power-sharing deal, Mr Ahern had presented Mr and Mrs Paisley with a walnut bowl, crafted from a centuries-old tree taken from the Battle of the Boyne site.

Yesterday, Mr Ahern and Mr Paisley planted a walnut tree to commemorate their meeting there.

The two men together toured Oldbridge House, overlooking part of the battle site, where the Government is spending €15m on a major restoration project aimed at attracting 100,000 tourists a year.

The Taoiseach said that when Mr Paisley had accepted his invitation to visit the site, he stated that he was not coming to re-fight the battle.

Joke

Mr Ahern joked that when he saw the DUP leader arriving yesterday morning bearing a cavalry carbine, he had "some brief doubts".

The DUP leader recalled the people who had fought on the "green grassy slopes of the Boyne".

However, he said he was also there to acknowledge the shared heritage of people throughout the island of Ireland and a common will to move forward.

Gene McKenna

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