Tuesday 18 September 2018

Irishness means more than hating England

Next week's visit by Prince Harry speaks again to a positive change in Ireland's self-confident sense of itself, writes Eilis O'Hanlon

IRELAND’S ROYAL SEAL OF APPROVAL: Visits by the British royals, like Prince Harry and wife Meghan Markle, have come to feel encouragingly unremarkable and not controversial. Photo: Getty Images
IRELAND’S ROYAL SEAL OF APPROVAL: Visits by the British royals, like Prince Harry and wife Meghan Markle, have come to feel encouragingly unremarkable and not controversial. Photo: Getty Images

John Bruton's speech when he hosted Prince Charles at a banquet in Dublin Castle in 1996 has gone down in political legend. Unjustly, as it happens. The Taoiseach at the time did not say, as so many people now misremember, that it was the best or happiest day of his life.

But the Fine Gael leader's insistence that the visit of the heir to the British throne had done more "in symbolic and psychological terms to sweep away the legacy of fear and suspicion that has lain between our two peoples than any other event in my lifetime" was undoubtedly a bit over the top, if not downright cringeworthy.

Some hyperbole was probably forgiveable, though, given the efforts being undertaken at the time to keep the peace process on track. As Tony Blair's later soundbite would have it, Bruton felt the hand of history on his shoulder, and perhaps his delight at where it was guiding two neighbouring peoples got the better of him for a moment. That's hardly a capital crime. He certainly did not deserve the insulting epithet of "West Brit" which was tossed his way.

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