Some Highlights of President Higgins State Visit, 8 April

The official visit of President Higgins to Britain has if anything exceeded expectations in terms of its ceremonial welcome and the depth of the symbolism of rapprochement between Ireland and Britain.

Renowned Irish historian Roy Foster puts the visit in its historical context here:

Speaking at Westminster, the scene of so much drama in Anglo-Irish relations from the speeches of Daniel O’Connell and the manoeuvrings of Charles Stewart Parnell to the passage of John Redmond’s Home Rule Bill in 1914, President Higgins paid tribute to all the Irish who made a contribution to Britain whether in the corridors of the Commons or in society generally.  Irish Times report here: .

Writing in the Irish Independent, Lise Hand evocatively captures the State Banquet at Windsor Castle here

A great photo of the Banquet is here

The keynote speeches of this visit were delivered at this Banquet.  The full text of the speech by President Higgins is here

President Higgins declared in his speech that “Ireland and Britain live in both the shadow and in the shelter of one another, and so it has been since the dawn of history. Through conquest and resistance, we have cast shadows on each other, but we have also gained strength from one another as neighbours and, most especially, from the contribution of those who have travelled between our islands in recent decades.” He went on “This present occasion, which completes a circle begun by your historic visit three years ago, marks the welcome transformation in relations between our countries over recent years a transformation that has been considerably progressed by the advancement of peace in Northern Ireland.”

The President concluded “The future we each desire, and seek to work towards is one where Ireland and the United Kingdom stand together to seek common opportunities and to face common global challenges as partners and friends.”

The full text of Queen Elizabeth’s speech is here She declared that ‘the goal of modern British-Irish relations can be simply stated. It is that we, who inhabit these islands, should live together as neighbours and friends. Respectful of each other’s nationhood, sovereignty and traditions. Cooperating to our mutual benefit. At ease in each other’s company. After so much chequered history, the avoidable and regrettable pain of which is still felt by many of us, this goal is now within reach.”

Significantly, the Queen said that “my family and my government will stand alongside you, Mr. President, and your ministers, throughout the anniversaries of the war and of the events that led to the creation of the Irish Free State.”  This has been interpreted as a hint that she may attend the centenary commemoration of the 1916 Rising.

The impact of the Rising was dramatic in terms of Irish history and on the private lives of individuals in ways that were at times hidden, indeed kept secret.  In a wonderful piece of writing and remembrance, Elaine Byrne writes here about a family history of the involvement of past generations of her family in the British Army and service in the WWI, a history rendered secret by the paradigm shift in Irish identity and loyalty brought about by the 1916 Rising.  It beautifully captures in a family history the twists and turns of Ireland’s early twentieth century and how that affected Irish identity: In so doing, it adds depth and insight to the historic and symbolic significance of the events in London this week.

Finally, there was significance too in the attendance at the State Banquet of Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness, Deputy First Minister in the devolved, power-sharing Northern Ireland Government.  A report on Unionist reaction is here .

More tomorrow,




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