I like having visitors. The house gets cleaned in advance, and I get to find things previously considered lost. We sit round the table, drink wine and blather. We might even show off scenery/ local sights. We may marvel at how time has changed Belfast. Then, I’m always happy to see the visitors off, to relax and to return to the sofa with the wine and the hot water bottle, relieved that the stay has passed without a crisis of some sort.
That’s pretty much how I’ve felt about the visit of the Queen to the Republic. I was a bit anxious the whole time she was on the island, afraid that there would be an awful security incident, or a ridiculous gaffe of some sort by Prince Philip or others.
The visit was significant in the development of Anglo Irish relations, full of ritual, symbolism and days out to tourist attractions. The Queen laid a wreath for those who had fought for independence, and for those 49,400 Irish dead from World War 1 who died fighting for Britain. There was the odd sight of people refusing free beer and the even more unusual sight of half a dozen people sitting, lined up in front of a huge screen at one of the biggest sports stadiums (stadia?) in Europe.
The visit to Croke Park was important, but without the emotion of the 2007 Ireland vs England rugby match- the silence of 82,000 people during national anthems is more stirring than a little old lady sitting down quietly. On the day Herself’s parents got married, 21 November 1920, British forces had killed 14 at Croke Park, in retaliation for the murder that day of suspected British intelligence agents in Dublin.
The highlight of the trip for me was The Speech. I never expected that anything ever said by a monarch would give me goosebumps. The Queen spoke a few words of Irish (A hUachtarain agus a chairde- President and friends), recognised the various layers of historical complexity in the relationship between the countries and expressed regret. She displayed great warmth, and surprised everyone.
Indeed, apart from the traffic chaos and the few protests, the surprise of the visit is how well it went, how much goodwill (or at least non-negativity) was generated. Brownie points to all organisers and participants- now you can breathe out.