Victoria was greeted by adoring crowds in Ireland. The sun never set on the Empire, and the Irish blood that paid for much of it never dried. The Irish joined the army in mobs in 1914, both Catholic and Protestant. If the British had acted with decency or humanity, or even common sense, on many occasions, Ireland would have been part of a United Kingdom to this day, with far less suffering and bloodshed all around. They had their chance, and more than their chance. But that is all the past.
Queen Elizabeth has presided over the piece by piece dissolution of a global empire, and these ceremonial occasions, which she is good at, are meant to heal wounds, close chapters, strengthen bonds, and move forward. Ireland’s wounds are the oldest and the worst, but even they can be closed and healed. Ireland and Britain should have a relationship like the USA and Canada, friendly neighbors, trading partners, allies when there is a shared cause, and that is the direction that both countries should move in.
An Irish friend wrote to me about how moving the Queen’s visit has been. It seems that the trip has been a smashing success from the perspective of Irish Americans, from what I can tell, and it seems to be similarly effective back in the Ould Sod.
This is the kind of thing which Elizabeth is perfect for. Only a monarch has the weirdly magical aura needed to pull off an event like this.
Her opening lines to the Irish parliament, in Irish, were a clever stroke, reminiscent of Juan Carlos surprising the Catalonians by speaking in Catalan at the Olympics in Barcelona. These gestures of respect carry massive weight, they take away the offended pride that keeps conflicts going perpetually.
There is a similar healing process going on among Indians whom I know. We all suffered, even the Americans, long, long ago, at the hands of the British. But we also all inherited much of value, including having all been made “cousins” in a globe-spanning network of English speaking people who can do great things for ourselves and the world. And we are mature enough to accept the good without forgetting the bad. An empire built on muskets and bayonets and opium and handcuffs and the lash has given way over a century to a valuable and peaceful and lawful community with a shared language and much shared law and many shared values. The British scattered our Irish ancestors across six continents, but we have risen above all that and succeeded beyond the dreams of those tough and suffering people, who got on with it and built something better for their children, wherever they landed. We can take the best from the past, learn its lessons, and give a great future to the people who come after us.
Truly a great event, and a very important step forward for the Anglosphere.
Victoria was able to travel in Dublin in an open carriage, in 1900, despite the prospect of Fenian bombs or revolvers. Elizabeth could not possibly mix with an Irish crowd without a very high risk of assassination. It has been 100 years ago that a British monarch last visited Ireland. Maybe another 50 years Queen Kate will be able to visit Ireland and go about with some normality, without expecting to be shot or blown to bits. There is still a lot of progress to be made.