by Pat Brosnan
A Week of Symbolism
While the visit to our State of England’s Queen Elizabeth II did not generate the widespread interest that some had forecast, nevertheless there was a strange mixture of curiosity together with a certain amount of goodwill towards the British monarch as a person and a visitor who had come in a spirit of friendship and mutual recognition to a neighbouring island, most of which is now an independent Republic with its own identity and no longer a part of the so-called United Kingdom, or even the British Commonwealth of which the Queen is the symbolic head, if not in the political reality of many of these Commonwealth nations. It was however a week of symbolism. On Tuesday after she arrived in Baldonnell Military Airport outside Dublin the numbers that came to see her passing through the centre of Dublin were very thin on the ground and even taking into consideration the high security measures and barriers, the onlookers could according to the television pictures and reports be measured in dozens rather than in hundreds or thousands. There was a somewhat eerie silence about it all according to some of the media personnel and it might have looked at that stage as if the opening round of the visit had turned into a damp squib.
However things quickly came to life after that when in the company of our own President Mary McAleese she went to lay a wreath in the Garden of Remembrance in honour of the dead who died for Ireland in all the wars against England.
This of course was a highly symbolic and let us recognize a generous gesture when the Queen of England honoured the heroes of 1916 and later. This softened the hearts of many Irish people towards the Royal family as such a happening must in all honesty be considered most unusual. Then the visit to Croke Park must also be looked upon as a very useful public relations exposure for the GAA and something very positive for the Association, even though all the northern counties except Down neglected to attend doubtless for reasons of their own.
It will surely be believed that our President Mary McAleese and her husband were a major factor in bringing the Queen and Prince Philip to Croke Park taking into consideration their close personal ties with the Valentia GAA family and their son-in-law’s mother coming from Cavan, another great traditional GAA stronghold.
It is to be hoped that the Croke Park visit will strengthen recognition of the GAA in Britain, particularly in the British media circles which usually have ignored Gaelic Games, even the most important ones and which have often been hostile to the Association. Oh yes, we know that some of the Irish editions of the British newspapers sometimes include a mean and rather skimpy amount of space to Gaelic Games compared to the coverage which is given to rugby and to soccer as well as other sports. Any small coverage that is give to Gaelic Games in these British newspapers is in the interest of sales, not in the promotion of the GAA. But in all fair play to the British media it needs to be stated that some of our own newspapers particularly some daily’s of a national kind are just as neglectful of any worthwhile coverage of the GAA affairs.
We are hopeful that the visit of the Royal couple to Croke Park will change all that. It would be nice to think that the Queen will find time to read the book on the history of the GAA that was presented to her and that she will keep it permanently in one of the libraries of Buckingham Palace. Maybe Philip will try using the camán that was given to him the next time he goes playing his favourite game of polo; he might even chance using it instead of the long-handled mallet for striking the polo ball.
The speeches given by our own President and the Queen before the banquet at Dublin Castle were no doubt very inspiring and full of hope for the future of both our countries. Our President spoke about even though we cannot change the past we can choose the future and the Queen in her speech re-echoed the same sentiments. In all fair play it must have been very difficult for the Queen to choose the right words for such an occasion which for her was so much different from addressing people in other countries which she has visited in her time. Nobody could say however that she did not make a good job of it and most of our people would surely appreciate that she opened her speech with a few words in Irish “A Úachtaráin, Ireland agus a cáirde”, which perhaps was unexpected. In her speech in which she displayed some of the more human and friendly side of royalty, she said all and maybe even more than what she could be really expected to say.
On Thursday, the Queen visited the National Stud in Kildare and Philip attended the Gaisce awards in Dublin and on the night they attended a concert at the Assembly Centre also in Dublin and before returning to England on Friday evening the Royal party visited Cashel and Cork.
Perhaps one of the most poignant and emotional moments for the Queen was her visit to the British War Memorial at Islandbridge where she and the president both laid wreaths in memory of all the Irish who died fighting with the British Forces in both World Wars.
The wreath laying ceremony was attended by ex-service men displaying their medals and memorabilia from both wars. While many of us had near relatives and neighbours who were in the British Forces we are aware of course that some of these war veterans have long felt that they have been the forgotten Irish. While it is quite true and reasonable to understand that these British Army survivors could hardly expect the same honour, dignity and respect that has been accorded and is still being accorded to our Fenian and Republican dead, nevertheless these war veterans deserve some recognition and last week they were given that and not least by our President when she attended the ceremony.
In both their speeches the Queen and the President spoke of the economic, cultural and family links between the British and ourselves. There is no doubt that this is true particularly among the ordinary plain people of both our islands. Some of ourselves who spent many years in England will never forget the kindness, friendship and neighbourly generosity that was bestowed on us by so many English people while we lived there. We still keep in contact with many near relatives and friends there. Our youngest girl Breda is married to Andrew Burr who is a native of Yorkshire and they live in Canada.
While it never will be easy for people throughout the North as well as the relatives of the victims of the Dublin bombings to come to terms with the British Army, RUC and Loyalist paramilitary atrocities, the hope is that such things will never happen again. On the other hand of course many Unionists and English people will find it difficult to forgive Republicans for their activities.
Apart from any other benefits it might have had, if the Queen’s visit has done anything to heal the wounds of the past and provide greater hope and understanding for the future then it has been worthwhile.
Late Garret Fitzgerald
The recent death during the past week of former Taoiseach, and in his time the most prominent member of the Fine Gael Party, was widely regretted by all sections of the people throughout the country. Dr. Garret Fitzgerald was not alone a brilliant and far-seeing politician but he was also an intellectual and a highly intelligent writer who was the author of several books.
By all accounts in his private life he was a very nice person to know and he was very popular on his visits to Kerry where he had many relatives. His father who was a Dublin Catholic and his mother who was a Belfast Protestant were both closely associated with the 1916 Rising.
He was also a devoted family man and many will remember the dedicated care he gave to his wife Joan when she became disabled and was in a wheelchair. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.