Fast forward now to May 2011 when the events that took place over the course of one week will enter into the history books for our grandchildren and great-grandchildren to learn how Ireland was so proud to welcome its first British Monarch in one hundred years and the 44th President of the United States.
Her visit to Croke Park, headquarters of the Gaelic Athletic Association and the site where on Sunday 21st. November 1920 innocent civilians attending a Dublin-Tipperary gaelic football match were massacred by British troops, was hugely symbolic. That barbaric event became known as "Bloody Sunday".
Later that evening during the state dinner in Dublin Castle which UK Prime Minister, David Cameron also attended Her Majesty delivered the speech that no one of my generation thought we would ever hear in our lifetime. Her opening line "A Uachtarain, agus a chairde" ("President and friends") both shocked and delighted dinner guests and television viewers alike, never in our wildest dreams did we expect to hear a greeting in our native tongue from the Head of the British Monarchy.
Half way through the speech came the words we'd been waiting to hear for so long "...to all those who have suffered as a consequence of our troubled past I extend my sincere thoughts and deep sympathy...". The Queen doesn't do "sorry" but this came bloody close and as my heart embraced those words I sensed a huge collective letting go of the painful history between our nations. My immediate words were "that's it" just like the jubilant football fan whose team has just scored the winning goal. I resisted the urge to stand and cheer. Perhaps now it is our turn to also apologise. One sentence has become the balm with which to begin the healing process.
No sooner had the Queen's plane taken off when President Barack Obama's Air Force One landed!
We pretty much knew this would not be a State visit but rather a day of sheer entertainment and we were not disappointed. The President and his beautiful wife, Michelle began their day with a visit to Aras an Uachtarain where they met our own wonderful President Mary McAleese then planted a tree with her in the grounds. (The previous week a tree planting ceremony took place with the Queen, her eighty five years in no way impeding her ability to shovel the little mound of clay).
I was there, one of forty thousand I believe. Like the song says, half a million strong, well... not quite, just felt like it! After our great actors, Gabriel Byrne, Stephen Rea and Brendan Gleeson, introduced by our newest brilliant young actress, Saoirse Ronan, whipped us into a patriotic frenzy with their powerful speeches we were then well on our way to all-out celebrity adoration.
The speeches will be remembered and I personally don't mind that Enda used the first forty words of President Obama's victory speech, I believe him when he said it was a "tribute" to the President. The remainder of his speech was equally fiery and had the crowds cheering their socks off! Good man Enda!
During this very difficult economic period when there are moments when we feel where is this all going to end or during times when there is a sense that we've maybe gone down one time too many, will we ever rise from the ashes? Draw strength from a President's parting words, "Is feider linn" - "Yes we can". They've worked well for him so far.
President J.F. Kennedy Dublin visit image: http://declancashin.com
The Queen with President Mary McAleese image: www.telegraph.co.uk
Dr. Garret FitzGerald image: www.thejournal.ie
President Obama & Michelle in Moneygall image: www.thisisoxfordshire.co.uk
President Obama speech, College Green, Dublin image: www.thestate.com
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