So the Queen of England has come to call. She’s here in her finery and the guards are changing at Buckingham Palace in her absence. It’s been a busy fortnight for her. A new hat to buy for her grandson’s wedding, not to mention having to stifle a laugh or ten at the cut of Beatrice’s headgear.
But now she’s here, her first time on the island so very close but so very far away from England. My immediate reaction when the visit was announced was that it was the wrong call. It was too soon, insensitive even. Too much had happened and it was not the right time to invite a reigning British monarch to visit our country. It would cost too much, in a year of bailouts and soaring unemployment. It couldn’t be justified.
The plans continued for her arrival. Politicians yapped and while they did, posters and graffiti not seen since the ’80s went up all over Dublin. “No Royal Visit.” “The Queen’s not welcome here.” I had my eyes and ears on other happenings in the past week and so, only really turned my attention to the media coverage and the event itself when her plane was landing in Baldonnel. It was bizarre watching her arrival. I’ve grown up seeing the Queen of England as a distant figure, a representation of colonial might, grotesque wealth and pompousness. I still don’t have any time for the monarchy or what they represent in the modern age but this visit, to me, has represented something very different, very new and very welcome.
It has caused me to stop and think, to reflect on what a wonderful thing it is that we can welcome the elderly Queen of England as a foreign dignitary and not as our ruler. Our free state, for all its failings, has worked, and is intact, and gives Irish people a place to call home. The deaths of so many in the civil war and ensuing battles must be grieved and respected but not seen to be wasted. It has been a great time of reflection. The Queen has paid tribute to the dead on both sides, and by Christ, there’ve been a fair few of those deaths caused at the hands of the Irish.
It’s not a matter of who started it, not anymore. It’s a matter of taking this as a moment to take stock, to mourn the loss of the dead, of those at Omagh and those in Canary Wharf, of Jean McConville and those who were killed on Bloody Sunday. We mourn them, we never forget them and we now begin to provide a future away from bitterness for the young of Ireland and England.
The panto villain came over here and it was grand. We’re grand. And it’s now our responsibility to see that things have changed. It is not 1916, it is not 1922. Ireland is different. I’m sharing the following poem that was also used in an Irish Times story today, and read at the Garden of Remembrance yesterday, as it reflects my feelings perfectly…
In the darkness of despair we saw a vision,
We lit the light of hope, And it was not extinguished.
In the desert of discouragement we saw a vision.
We planted the tree of valour, and it blossomed.
In the winter of bondage we saw a vision.
We melted the snow of lethargy and the river of resurrection flowed from it.
We sent our vision aswim like a swan on the river. The vision became a reality.
Winter became summer. Bondage became freedom and this we left to you as your inheritance.
O generations of freedom remember us, the generations of the vision.
(Rinneadh Aisling Duinn by Liam MacUistin)