“Picky,” a British reader of this blog who generously offers me his “firm but sympathetic guidance” in the comments, has drawn my attention to a notable event.
The British monarch, you know, has little direct influence on the governance of the kingdom but has become rather a symbol of continuity. Yesterday, in Dublin, the British monarch was a symbol of discontinuity, and a welcome one.
A band played “God Save the Queen,” and Elizabeth II stepped forward to lay a wreath on a monument. She stood before it in a long moment of silence. Then, as she and the president of Ireland stepped down, the band played the Irish national anthem.
It was historic enough that the British monarch was making a state visit to the Republic of Ireland, but the wreath-laying was even more significant. The monument is to “those who gave their lives to the cause of Irish Freedom”—that is, rebels who died resisting the rule of her grandfather.
There are moments of reconciliation that resonate for a long time. Some of you may recall Willy Brandt, the chancellor of Germany, falling to his knees in a long moment of silence before the memorial to the uprising of the Warsaw Ghetto.
It would be foolish to imagine that this one gesture by Queen Elizabeth would undo the centuries of bitterness and violence between England and Ireland, and indeed the account in the Irish Times mentioned the snipers and helicopters necessary for security.
But it would have been foolish to imagine for many years that the Rev. Ian Paisley and Gerry Adams could accommodate each other in a power-sharing agreement in Northern Ireland. Or that Protestant and Catholic leaders of the governments of Northern Ireland and the Republic could come together to mourn an officer of the Northern Ireland security forces killed by IRA dissidents, but that happened last month at the funeral or Ronan Kerr.
Sometimes we contrive to be better than we used to be.