A fitting finale to successful royal visit

We can take pride in the fact that the visit of Queen Elizabeth II went off so well, without any unseemly incidents, except for the obscene behaviour of a tiny minority of people looking for publicity. The events of the past week have demonstrated conclusively that the republican dissidents are totally out of touch with the overwhelming majority of the Irish people.

Unlike previous royal visits, the Irish public had unprecedented access to so many aspects of the visit of Queen Elizabeth through the medium of television. People were able to make up their own minds. Admiration for her has soared as people have been amazed at her stamina and the good grace that she has shown throughout. Her schedule would have taxed the resilience of a much younger person.

It has probably been the most memorable and successful visit of any head of state since the visit of US President John F Kennedy in 1963. Prior to his visit Ireland had been largely ignored. He arrived in this country after an enormously successful visit to Germany. As well as viewing his visit on television, great crowds were permitted to see Kennedy close up, but following his assassination three months later everyone had to become much more security conscious.

Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Eamon Gilmore noted that his department has been getting reports of very positive reactions to the Queen’s visit from our embassies around the world. Irish relations with our British neighbours have finally been normalised.

At the outset of the visit, the Tánaiste noted, nobody could have anticipated the extent to which it could enhance this country’s reputation after three years when all the stories coming out of Ireland were negative. Only time will reveal the long-lasting benefits of this week’s international coverage, but it has showcased Ireland in a very positive light.

The sites chosen for the various functions made for a magnificent blend of Irish history and culture, emphasising the historical expanse from the time of the high kings at Cashel, through the centuries of the British connection with some of the remaining magnificent buildings, such as Áras an Uachtaráin and the Taoiseach’s office, which have become symbols of our democratic republic.

There were so many memorable aspects to the visit: the symbolism of her presence at the Garden of Remembrance on the first day set a healing tone, along with the visits to the Irish War Memorial and Croke Park, and the speeches at Dublin Castle. All made enormous impressions.

Instead of upstaging Queen Elizabeth’s tour, the death of Garret FitzGerald appeared to provide an appropriate symmetry as the culmination of his life’s work in promoting mutual respect between the two traditions on the island. He was a child of both traditions. The presence of the North's First Minister Peter Robinson and the members of the Ulster Defence Association at the commemoration at the Irish War Memorial at Islandbridge on the day of Dr FitzGerald’s death were further poignant evidence of real progress.

The warmth of the reception that Queen Elizabeth received following the gala concert at the Convention Centre on Thursday night spoke volumes. The concert and fashion show were a great success, and one sensed that the extended standing ovation given at the end was not just a warm and genuine show of appreciation to her, but also an expression of pride that we have been able to show ourselves — and what we have to offer — in such a positive light.

While the events appeared to go off naturally, and were the result of months of careful planning and dedicated work by Irish and British officials. All should be warmly congratulated. President Mary McAleese must be singled out, however, because she played an absolute blinder throughout.

At the outset many people hoped that Queen Elizabeth’s visit would provide a much-needed boost for tourism, but it has ended up providing something more significant. Irrespective of anyone’s attitude towards monarchy and political ideology, this past week has rekindled a renewed sense of pride and optimism in ourselves.

Yesterday she visited the English Market, which takes pride in promoting Irish produce, and the Tyndall Institute, which is at the cutting edge of the most modern research and technology. It was a measure of the relaxation in tensions and the marginalisation of the republican dissidents that Queen Elizabeth was able to meet with people on a Cork street.

The people of Cork have been taking a certain satisfaction from the realisation that Queen Elizabeth saved the best until last, and ended her phenomenally successful Irish tour in Cork.


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