Sometimes great change, maybe the greatest of change, comes in a quiet, almost unspoken way — certainly without the triumphalism that hinders bridge building.
Many Irish people who were teenagers when the 50th anniversary of the 1916 Rising was marked, the generation who saw the North begin 30 years of carnage a few years later, went through political and cultural change as low-key as it was profound.
They recoiled from the violent pursuit of political objects. Though they did not forget or deny their past they tried to transcend it, so 1916 centenary celebrations would take place in a very different country and on an island, if not at all perfect, then far better than it was.
That process relied on one leap of faith after another and, despite many setbacks, that objective was realised more fully than seemed possible when the RUC baton-charged civil rights marchers or when a blind Éamon de Valera took the 1966 salute at Dublin’s GPO.
One of those leaps was that Britain had, finally, become a reliable partner in rebuilding relationships destroyed the unfettered racism of Unionist administrations who denied basic rights to Catholics.
This was not easily achieved, a point underlined yesterday when Gerry Adams, speaking about the IRA’s August 31, 1994, ceasefire.
It was a “close call”,he said, when he recalled how, even when it agreed to the cessation, some army council members remained opposed. Those refuse niks’ heirs are, tragically, active today.
How tragic it is that Boris Johnson’s Britain has shown itself utterly unreliable and determined to press ahead with a hard Brexit no matter what the consequences for its citizens, its neighbours or its European peers.
It is scant consolation that Johnson and his Brexit pallbearers for Britain’s democracy, are as indifferent to the fate of their 1.7m compatriots employed in the car industry as they are to the havoc a hard Brexit will wreak in our food sector.
It is also hard to see how the DUP’s support role will not colour relationships on this island.
It is impossible too to pretend that the British Labour Party has been a reliable player. Its loyalty to Jeremy Corbyn may be admirable but it is misplaced — unless you are Johnson (prime minister on foot of fewer than 100,000 Tory votes remember) and happy to exploit this vulnerability.By refusing to remove Corbyn, Labour have made it all but impossible for a coalition of the sane to challenge Johnson.
Neither is it any consolation that those car workers, should Johnson provoke an election, will have an opportunity to vote on those who wished to “to take back control”. Britain was polarised before its parliament was emasculated but it is now doubly so.
Emotion has replaced reason. It is impossible to predict how this will end.
However, it is even more difficult to understand why moderate Britain cannot unite in the face of this threat to their way of life.
What is certain, though, is that those who wish to preserve the peace and deepen relationships on this island must focus on the bigger picture and transcend today’s provocations so tomorrow might be as those who, from 1966 refused to be cowed or divided by inherited differences or grievances.
Britain may be imploding but we must ensure that we do not drown in the after wash.