Whilst we share a common history and our people regularly travel back and forth to both countries over the years, politically Ireland and the UK have always had a somewhat tumultuous past together. In recent years much has been done to bring our great countries together and acknowledge the many things both of us share in common whilst highlight the ways both countries have to give to each other. Much of the healing/reconciliation process was made with the historic visit of Queen Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh to our shores in 2011. It is hard to believe but it has been three years since their historic trip to Ireland, a visit remembered in a memorable dinner at Dublin Castle, a tour the Guinness Storehouse, a visit to the Rock of Cashel and a warm reception in Cork City amongst other things.
With the success of the queens tour of Ireland, a visit by her Irish counterpart was always in the works and last week was the turn of our own President Michael D Higgins to pay a historic four day state visit to the UK. And an eventful and momentous four days followed. Throughout the four days he and his entourage were treated to a stay and a historic state banquet at Windsor Castle, laid a wreath at Westminister Abbey in honour of the unknown soldier of World War 1, became the first Irish President to address parliament, met many members of the large Irish community in the UK, and visited Coventry Cathedral (a symbol of peace) amongst other things.
One of the many highlights of the trip was Thursday nights special concert at the Royal Albert Hall. Named “Ceiliúradh” an Irish (Gaelic) word meaning celebration and ceremony, the concert featured performances by prominent musicians, writers and artists from Ireland playing alongside many of their English born counterparts of Irish descent, in a show that helped to highlight the strong Irish/English connections, the Irish culture and the shared closeness of both countries.
That shared history and culture and the strong Irish community alive in the UK, was one of the main reasons for the visit which was as much about highlighting the vast cultural influence our small nation has had and continues to have on Britain and indeed the world, through the work of various Irish artists, writers, inventors etc and vice versa as it was about banishing any remaining mistrust. The visit was as helpful in highlighting Irish developments in the world of sport, particularly horse racing of which her royal highness is a big fan (one of the areas she visited on her royal visit was the Irish National Stud), agriculture and exports as it was about reinforcing our countries shared history, culture, heritage and community and was a further step in finally healing old wounds.
The success of the historic event, the first time an Irish President has visited the UK on a State Visit, looks set to help cement the growing friendship between the two eternally linked neighbouring countries and along with the Queen Elizabeth’s 2011 Irish State Visit will go along way to healing any lingering mistrust that previously existed between Ireland and England. And such is the continuing goodwill that is developing between both heads of state, that there are now plans for another royal visit in 2016 to coincide with our centenary celebrations of the 1916 Easter Rising, with hints that it may be another royal couple either King Charles and Camille or Prince William and Kate coming to visit Ireland next time round.