Note: this article comments primarily on the wreath laying ceremony to take place in the Garden of Remembrance in Dublin as part of the State Visit of Queen Elizabeth to Ireland, as this is the aspect that has been given little prominence in commentary to date.
As a citizen of the Republic of Ireland, I warmly welcome the visit of Queen Elizabeth II as Head of State of the United Kingdom, a dynamic cosmopolitan and multicultural state with whose people we enjoy warm and friendly relationships, whose vibrant and exciting capital London we love to visit. The Queen comes here in a different capacity to any of her predecessors who visited-she comes as an equal of any citizen in this state. As we are not her subjects, no bobbing or curtsying is necessary or appropriate (note to Pat Kenny, whose radio show on RTE radio one today featured an extended piece on the precise etiquette of greeting royalty, including advice to the public on the appropriate table manners). See here for a note on the appropriate etiquette, including advice to those who are not subjects.
The hope is that the Queen and her husband Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, will enjoy a warm welcome and a very pleasant stay here. The regrettable aspects are that she will fly into a virtual cordon sanitaire, a country in virtual lockdown, with most of the citizenry kept out of her view, because of a security threat from dissident republican elements such as the Real IRA, which enjoy virtually no community support in the North. The hope must be that, in carrying out their legitimate and necessary duties to safeguard the visiting dignitaries, the Gardaí will avoid heavy handed tactics with members of the public who come to view the spectacle, or with protesters who have an entirely legitimate right in a democratic society to register peacefully their opposition to this visit. All citizens should be aware of their rights, some of which are outlined here
Her Majesty will lay a wreath at the Garden of Remembrance near Parnell Square at the top of O’Connell Street. This park was formally opened in 1966, during the jubilee celebrations of the 1916 Easter rising, to commemorate all of those who fought in the struggle for Irish freedom which led to the foundation of the sovereign state in the 26 counties. The Queen will thus be acknowledging, on behalf of the United Kingdom, people like the poet, playwright, educationalist and revolutionary Patrick Pearse and the socialist and thinker James Connolly, as well as acknowledging the foundation of the State.
It is a singular pity that some media commentators on this visit could not resist the opportunity to denigrate those who took part in the struggle for independence or to caricature the entire independent history of the state as a tale of emigration, censorship, priest-domination, poverty and linguistic compulsion. It has failed to factor in the good with the bad, or to set the first faltering steps of the new state, or its early ethos, in any appropriate historical context.
Pearse, who proclaimed a republic outside the GPO on Easter Monday 1916, and was executed some weeks later in the stonebraker’s yard in Kilmainham Gaol, once wrote:
For this I have heard in my heart, that a man shall scatter, not hoard,
Shall do the deed of to-day, nor take thought of to-morrow’s teen,
Shall not bargain or huxter with God ; or was it a jest of Christ’s
And is this my sin before men, to have taken Him at His word?
The lawyers have sat in council, the men with the keen, long faces,
And said, `This man is a fool,’ and others have said, `He blasphemeth;’
And the wise have pitied the fool that hath striven to give a life
In the world of time and space among the bulks of actual things,
To a dream that was dreamed in the heart, and that only the heart could hold.
O wise men, riddle me this: what if the dream come true?
What if the dream come true? and if millions unborn shall dwell
In the house that I shaped in my heart, the noble house of my thought?
Lord, I have staked my soul, I have staked the lives of my kin
On the truth of Thy dreadful word. Do not remember my failures,
But remember this my faith
On the wall of the Garden of Remembrance is inscribed the following:
We Saw A Vision
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 generation of freedom remember us,
The generation of the vision.
I salute the brave and visionary men who led the 1916 rising, those who fought and gave their lives for Irish independence, and remember with gratitude their sacrifice. I acknowledge the generosity of the Queen (and the British Government) in laying a wreath to the memory of these men on behalf of of her people, in so doing, acknowledging that they were inspired by the highest ideals, even if ones she would not share. It is very much to be hoped that unionists and dissenters will finally be moved to acknowledge that the men of 1916 were sincerely motivated, if their monarch can do so. Former Taoiseach Brian Cowen called in May of last year for Unionists to acknowledge the Easter Rising of 1916, in reciprocation for nationalists acknowledging the Battle of the Somme and the sacrifices of the First World War– see here for a report on this call, which has to date fallen on deaf ears.
I also salute those other Irish who fought and died for different ideals, and in the regiments of other armies. The Queen will also, quite rightly, lay a wreath to the memory of these men at the War Memorial Gardens in Islandbridge.
It seems that quite a significant speech will be made by the Queen at the state dinner in honour in Dublin Castle on Wednesday evening (this will be broadcast live on RTE 1 television). The presence of British Prime Minister David Cameron here is also a significant portent. Perhaps some progress will be made on the British side in releasing the files on the Dublin and Monaghan bombings, the atrocity which resulted in the greatest loss of life on a single day during the period of the Northern Ireland troubles.
May the State visit pass safely and well, and a new and hopeful epoch commence in relationships between these islands.