From John Simpson on Twitter, “An Irish friend says that when the news of the Queen’s death came through, ‘I was drinking in an Irish Republican Socialist pub here in Dublin… To a man & a woman, everyone raised a glass to a woman who loved Ireland & did so much to bring about peace on our islands.’”
Being Irish, I had never given thought to the Queen during her life. But in her death, I have.
I’ve done it by trying to get a sense of what it means to my fellow countrymen and women. People who identify with being Irish through birth or heritage, living in the UK but perhaps more so those living in Ireland. Simply because having lived in the UK almost as long as I lived in Ireland, I felt disconnected from what Irish people thought of the Queen. I sensed that by and large, like me, in her life, they never gave her much thought – she really wasn’t anything to do with us – she wasn’t our Queen, it was as simple as that.
Except it wasn’t simple.
It’s only in her death that I realised she was something to do with us. And that something is significantly important.
I learnt it through the instinctive response of people enjoying a drink and raising their glass to the Monarch they believed had helped the peace process on our island.
When you live in a country divided by war, peace means more than possibly words can ever communicate. A solemn moment of silence can perhaps express this far more profoundly.
She helped put the long and troubled past between our nations behind us. I learnt this through these words in the statement by President Higgins on the death of the Queen:
“As we know, the Queen often spoke of how much she enjoyed her own historic State Visit to Ireland in 2011, the first such visit by a British monarch since Irish independence, and during which she did so much through eloquent word and generous gesture to improve relations between our two islands.
“Queen Elizabeth’s Visit was pivotal in laying a firm basis for an authentic and ethical understanding between our countries. During those memorable few days eleven years ago, the Queen did not shy away from the shadows of the past. Her moving words and gestures of respect were deeply appreciated and admired by the people of Ireland and set out a new, forward looking relationship between our nations – one of respect, close partnership and sincere friendship.”
President Higgins is a man I admire and respect for his integrity – a man who also doesn’t shy away from the shadows of the past. I know him to be a man who calls a spade a spade.
I learnt it through the words the Queen spoke at the State Dinner:
“Speaking here in Dublin castle, it is impossible to ignore the weight of history, as it was yesterday when you and I laid wreaths at the garden of remembrance. Indeed so much of this visit reminds us of the complexity of our history, its many layers and traditions, but also the importance of forbearance and conciliation of being able to bow to the past but not be bound by it. Of course, the relationship has not always been straightforward, nor has the record over the centuries been entirely benign. It is a sad and regrettable reality that throughout history, our islands experienced more than their fair share of heartache, turbulence and loss. These events have touched us all. Many of us personally, and are a painful legacy. We can never forget those who have died or have been injured and their families. To all those who have suffered as a consequence of our troubled past, I extend my sincere thoughts and deep sympathy. With the benefit of historical hindsight, we can all see things that we would wish had been done differently or not at all. But it is also true that no one who looked to the future over the past centuries could have imagined the strength of the bonds that are now in place between the governments and people of our two nations.”
These weren’t empty words. This wasn’t lip service. This was a commitment to the spirit of partnership and lasting rapport between our nations.
This wasn’t a promise to be broken. These words were followed through by action—action through diplomacy.
I’ve adapted the following from an article by Reuters (For the most part, I’ve kept their words but just shared an excerpt):
The queen’s use of the Irish language, once banned under British rule, to begin her landmark address at the State Dinner brought about a spontaneous round of applause from the guests.
Other symbolic moments included the laying of a wreath to those who died fighting for the British crown and stepping out onto Dublin’s Croke Park stadium, the scene of a massacre of 14 people by British forces almost a century earlier.
Across Irish politics, the Queen has been recognised and remembered as a bridge builder in repairing relationships between our countries.
A year after her visit to Ireland, the Queen shook the hand of former IRA guerrilla commander and then deputy first minister of Northern Ireland Martin McGuinness in Belfast, one of the last big milestones in a peace process studied around the world.
The Queen’s cousin, Lord Mountbatten and three members of his family party were killed in 1979 by Irish Republican Army (IRA) militants.
In writing these words, I’m not inviting discussion or debate. These are simply my thoughts. My way of making sense of things.
Some may share in my thinking. Others may not. And that’s OK. As with everything I share, I do so to simply express my thinking. I’m not assuming to think and speak for Irish people. I have never and will never assume to think or speak for someone else. People are extremely capable of doing that for themselves. I believe whether we agree or disagree, it’s important that we don’t silence the voice of others.
I’m simply sharing the words, actions and events that helped me make sense of things as an Irish person living in the UK in understanding my thoughts and emotions brought about by the death of a Monarch who, during her life, I thought had nothing to do with me. And yet, in her death, I have come to learn of the importance of her role in bringing peace to the island of Ireland.
That has everything to do with me.
And for that, I say:
Go raibh maith agat – Thank you.
On reflection, I felt the need to add that I hope English people will understand why I felt the need to write and share this.
I write to make sense of my thoughts and emotions when I’m struggling to understand what I’m thinking or feeling about something. It’s simply my way of processing things.
While Ireland will always be my true home, the UK has been my adopted home for many years. The country and the people have been good to me. In no way do I want to be disrespectful of that. The country, in general, and London, in particular, have become a part of me, and that’s why I needed to share my story. I hope English people will understand that.
Over the last several days, I’ve learnt a little about the history of both Scotland and Wales and their relationship with England. In doing so, I learnt of the historic similarities both countries share with Ireland. Because of this, I feel Scottish and Welsh people will understand why I felt the need to write and share this.
I talk about Ireland and the Irish people as a whole. I include people living in the Republic of Ireland and people living in Northern Ireland. As a nation, we were both divided and connected by war, and because of that, I feel the people of Ireland as a whole will understand why I felt the need to write and share this.
Go raibh maith agat a chairde – Thank you, friends.
Carmel O’ Reilly is a learning practitioner and writer. She creates resources to help people self-direct their WorkLife learning. These include a Collection of Books which originated from her first book, Your WorkLife Your Way and a Learn Through Reading Series of Case Studies. which originated from her latest book WorkLife Book Club.
That’s the power of writing (and reading, which is an integral part of the craft for writers). It helps you find, develop and tell the right story at the right time in all WorkLife situations – in day-to-day communication: WorkLife and feedback conversations, presentations, talks, and negotiations, at interviews, and when socialising and networking in building and maintaining good relationships. The practice of writing helps you to tell the stories that express who you are in an interesting and engaging way.