Okay, first a glimpse back to the dark days. I know I’m not alone when I tell you that there were times in my life when I never saw Ireland and England reaching a point where we would see an official visit from a reigning Queen of England to Ireland. If ever there could be one, I can certainly admit that I would have regarded you as crazy if you told me that she would visit Croke Park – the scene of the original Bloody Sunday, and the Garden Of Remembrance – where those executed after the 1916 rising are honored along with all who fought for our freedom. When the second Bloody Sunday took place violence up north escalated to a point where the idea of peace was fantasy land. Why? We had bombings up north and in England, eventually down south (attributed to MI-5 – an allegation that has never been disproven), a shoot-to-kill policy among police/army of ‘eligible’ youth – ie those who could be an IRA member. Glimmers of hope came when a Manchester police chief called John Stalker was appointed by Thatcher to do a report, that she fully expected him to whitewash and deny all allegations as baseless. One problem; John Stalker was an honest cop who joined the police force to do his civic duties and was honest to the bone. He proved, with recorded evidence that such a policy existed and found himself dismissed from his job while he himself was ridiculed. He was accused of associating with a known criminal – there was a photograph from high school of him with someone who would become a known criminal. So, forgive me for being despondent.
Next on to the Bermingham Six and The Guildford Four:
I remember well the night when my Dad told me had seen a news flash that the first of these cases had collapsed and we both watched in disbelief as the celebration of their release was now taking place in real time. This involved an admission of a miscarriage of justice to a people who believed their system was flawless and has since been depicted in the movie In The Name Of The Father. Some time later there was apology by Tony Blair for the famine and then before we knew it Bertie Ahern, Tony Blair, Bill Clinton confirmed that agreement had been reached on a ceasefire as lasting peace was sought with a feeling of optimism never really felt before. John Hume’s courage in openly having discussions with Gerry Adams, is to me the real catalyst in getting us to the point of peace. He was ridiculed early in the process for meeting with ‘terrorists’ when it was an open secret that both governments were having ‘behind closed doors’ meeting in both the 70s and 80s.
In my own family, my Uncle Tom (my mother’s oldest brother) fought in the GPO in the 1916 Rising) – I believe he 17 years old (or was it 16?) He was a wanted man for much of his late teens.
Alright, enough looking back, I believe this visit from the Queen and the choice of locations for the four days shows tremendous courage and has been intended to celebrate the closeness that now exists between the two countries. Having lived in the USA for a number of years I soon discovered how much we had in common with our seemingly distant neighbors. Tea, football, real-time unscripted interviews with sitting politicians on TV and Radio and one of the loves of my life: Fish’n’chips with malt vinegar 😉 There are those who oppose this visit, some questioning the sensitivity of it (anniversary of Dublin and Monaghan bombings) and it is at times like this I think of Maya Angelou’s wonderful “On The Pulse Of Morning” poem from the first Clinton inauguration:
History, Despite it’s wrenching pain, cannot me unlived, and if faced with courage, need not be lived again. She closed out her wonderful poem with a moving tone of optimism:
Here on the pulse of this new day You may have the grace to look up and out And into your sister’s eyes, into Your brother’s face, your country And say simply Very simply With hope Good morning.
I hope that the spirit of this visit will help the spirit of the Irish public who have been battered with the economic woes of the last few years as they face the sadness of mass emigration, unemployment etc. I thank those who have had the courage to push forward with this visit.