The Queen’s visit to Ireland: Hope for the Future
In May 2011 Queen Elizabeth made the first visit to Ireland by a British monarch in 100 years since King George V in 1911. Gracious and friendly, she acknowledged the bleak record of past relationships between the two countries, particularly in her remarks at Dublin Castle on May 18: “It is a sad and regrettable reality that through history our islands have experienced more than their share of heartache, turbulence and loss.” More than a millions Irish starved during the Great Hunger; more than a million more were driven from the county when their homes were tumbled by British dragoons.
During her stay in Ireland, the Queen did all the right things, even giving a greeting in Gaelic, a language her forebears had tried to eradicate from the country. With Ireland’s President McAleese, at the Garden of Remembrance she honored the those citizens who had died in the Anglo-Irish War and at the Irish War Memorial Garden in Island Bridge the 49400 Irish soldiers who had perished in the Great War serving in the British military. In a tribute to Celtic scholarship at Trinity College, she inspected the Book of Kells, an illuminated Gospel book composed in Latin by Irish monks in 800 A.D.
In her speech at Dublin Castle, the Queen touched on the suffering of both countries: “These events [of their shared history] have touched us all, many of us personally, and are a painful legacy. We can never forget those who have died or been injured and their families. To all those who have suffered as a consequence of our troubled past
I extend my sincere thoughts and deep sympathy. With the benefit of historical hindsight troubled we can see things we would wish had been differently or not at all.. But is also true that no one who looked to the future over the past centuries could have imagined the strength of the bonds that are now in place between the governments and people of our two nations. the spirit of partnership that we enjoy, and the lasting rapport between us. No-one here this evening could doubt that heartfelt desire of our two nations.”
The Queen also touched on the Good Friday agreement in Belfast “as a basis for reconciliation between our peoples and communities.” We can only pray that that peace will hold.
For me as a “narrowback,” a term of mild derision for the first generation of Irish immigrants, I was thrilled by the Queen’s visit and speech. My father and uncles fled to America as want ed members of the IRA. My mother and aunts came here to find work in Chicago. All succeeded.
Because of the world-wide financial crisis, our two countries now face a new crisis: the economy. After all those years of famine, the “coffin-ships, the Anglo-Irish war, the Civil War, the Queen is correct. We must create a world for our grandchildren. After Elizabeth’s visit, no more should the Irish say as they did on Queen Victoria’s trip in 1849, “Arise ye dead of Skibbereen, and come to Cork to see the Queen.”