Monday, 16 May 2011

The Queen at Croke Park.

Never let anyone say that history doesn't matter. The Queen's tour of the south of Ireland this week - the first visit of a UK head of state for a century - is just one case in point.

A British monarch at the Garden of Rememberance, a site that commemorates those who died in the War of Independence against the British state? And at Croke Park (above), site of a British Army reprisal massacre in 1920? Nothing like it has been known in the history of the Irish state. These are not just baby steps we are talking about. Until recently most Britons, let alone the Queen, would have been unwelcome at Croke Park. It represents not only the beating heart of gaelic football, but a living symbol of Irishness and its struggle. Some Irish commentators and citizens are, inevitably, uncomfortable. Quite a few voices have been raised in objection. 'Too soon', some say; 'offensive and insensitive' add others. Some radicals and republicans doubt the efficacy and meaning of the whole visit.

But if not now, and in support of a long peace process that is now nearing its third decade, then when? A grown up and mature Irish state, examining itself now at a time of economic crisis and hardship, flanked by British and European wellwishers and friends, should now at last be able to look itself and its neighbours in the face and the eye. That confidence, rather than naysaying, would be the real triumph of 'Irishness' in this situation. It is now ninety years or so since the Republic of Ireland emerged - long, long enough to struggle with the intertwined unions and disunions of past, present and future.

One might have thought, just a few months ago, that those of us who believe in a much more sophisticated narrative of Irish, British and European interactions could afford to fall out - or fall silent. No longer. The gallant and tragic sacrifices of Roman Catholics serving in the uniform of the Police Service of Northern Ireland shows that there is still work to do - on all sides. One example is Peter Robinson's first-ever attendance at Catholic Mass at the funeral of Constable Ronan Kerr (a gaelic footballer himself), a rather brave and dignified gesture in its way. And one that the citizens of the Republic can now mirror through their own lives and voices.

It is still a time to work for peace, to strive for reconciliation, and to speak up for the normalcy of neighbours. In that context we historians should act as responsibly as everyone else, and say: let the Queen visit Croke Park.

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