Friday 24 November 2017

In facing up to our shared history, we can set a template for the future

John Downing

John Downing

'We will remember our past but we shall no longer allow our past to ensnare our future. This is the greatest gift we can give to succeeding generations."

Queen Elizabeth's words were deceptively simple and extremely carefully chosen.

Her words were reciprocated by the speech of President Higgins and it soon became clear that both contributions were crafted to dovetail one another. The pageantry of yesterday was done into words on a page to be delivered by both leaders to the world.

The Queen's speech, opening the splendid formal banquet of welcome, echoed her eloquent gestures and speeches during the royal visit to Ireland a number of years ago.

The shared history with all its positives and many horrors had to be faced up to. For many people 'avoidable and regrettable pain was still felt'.

But in remembering things past, it was also important to move on to a more positive future. Britain and Ireland must continue to learn to be good and reliable neighbours capable of collaborating on the world stage.

Queen Elizabeth recalled with evident delight her visit in 2011, the places, the people and the warmth of welcome. Most notably she strongly signalled her intention of returning to participate in the historic commemorations.

"My family and my government will stand alongside you, Mr President, and your ministers," she said. This would extend to events planned to mark the centenaries of World War I, in which so many Irish people participated, and the events leading to the creation of the Irish State. President Higgins' speech also gently mixed in a few deftly chosen words and phrases from the Irish language. He stressed two potential translations of the word 'scath': which can mean 'shadow' – but also 'shelter'.

As the smaller country, Ireland was often in the shadow of Britain. But more recently the word shelter – the potential for interdependence and reciprocal hospitality – was a far more appropriate translation.

These equally carefully chosen words led to a simple toast by Uachtarain na hEireann: "To a creative cooperation and a sustainable partnership between our countries and our peoples; and to valued neighbours whose friendship we truly cherish." With those sentiments from President Higgins, two simple and strong, yet eloquent, and well-crafted speeches came to a close. Most of us will hope that these words, from the titular leaders of two neighbouring lands with a very troubled history, can become a template for a shared future.

Irish Independent

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