Monday, May 30, 2011

Welcome Your Majesty, Mr President - A Week In Irish History

I vividly remember that showery afternoon in June 1963 when President John F. Kennedy's cavalcade slowly drove past me as I stood waving with my mother at the front of the crowd in Westmoreland Street, Dublin. With me soon to become a twelve year old, politics certainly did not enter into the equation. No, the sole purpose of accompanying my mother was to view at close quarters the President of America no less. My newly acquired female hormones were by then sufficiently developed to recognise that this man was one truly gorgeous hunk. Also, he was the first person I'd ever seen with a tan! For weeks afterwards I probably bored the socks off all and sundry with my recounting of the day's events.

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.

First we had the visit of Queen Elizabeth II who genuinely seemed to enjoy her stay. (I too joined the throngs to see her emerge from Trinity College). We have yet to fully absorb the positive outcome for our two nations of her visit. The image of the Queen of England laying a wreath at the Garden of Remembrance, our memorial garden dedicated to the memory of the Irish men who gave their lives in the cause of Irish freedom then standing, head bowed, during the one minute silence will forever be etched in the Irish psyche.

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 " 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.

Still high on the eurphoric wave from the Queen's speech it was with an almighty bang that we were brought back down to earth the following morning with the very sad news that our much loved statesman, philosopher, journalist and politician, serving twice as Taoiseach between 1981-1987, Garret FitzGerald had died. I was so happy to hear that in the twenty four hours before his passing he was very much aware of the Queen's historic visit to Ireland.

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).

Early afternoon saw the Obamas head off to Moneygall, the small village in County Offaly where the President visited his ancestral home which his great-great-great grandfather left one hundred and fifty years ago to seek prosperity in the United States. There in Ollie Hayes's pub in Main Street, Moneygall, Barack and Michelle knocked back the Guinness, a pint for him, a half glass for herself. They were certainly in good spirits when they arrived back in College Green, Dublin.

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.

Music from Imelda May, Jedward and Westlife to name but a few boomed throughout the length and breath of College Green and Dame Street, causing the odd rooftop pigeon to peer down and pace in an agitated state at the goings on of us humans. Then the moment Ireland and the remaining world had been waiting for, arrived. With his usual upbeat humour our good friend, TV presenter and radio broadcaster, Ryan Tubridy introduced our Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, the President and First Lady onto the stage and as they say, the rest is history, Irish history.

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:
The Queen with President Mary McAleese image:
Dr. Garret FitzGerald image:
President Obama & Michelle in Moneygall image:
President Obama speech, College Green, Dublin image:


Sunday, May 1, 2011

A Royal Wedding - William and Catherine

Those smiles say it all...this newly married couple truly love each other. The reason I didn't choose the "kiss" photo was firstly because it was the world's media main Royal Wedding portrait and secondly, I thought the first kiss was performed purely for the cameras though I have to say that the second kiss, much longer in duration, was definitely a stolen private moment. No, mainly it was because, as a soppy romantic, I wanted to show an unstaged real moment of tenderness between them. I think the above image portrays just that.

I was a toddler at the time of Queen Elizabeth's coronation in 1953 so, too young to remember it. What I clearly remember with great fondness are the black and white photographs of the wedding of Princess Margaret to Anthony Armstrong-Jones in 1960 and one particular one of the Queen looking tenderly at Prince Charles lying, I think, in his moses basket. I would have been browsing through those in my mother's magazines at the time probably Woman's Own or Woman's Weekly, I remember the latter had loads of knitting patterns. That definitely was the beginning of my lifelong fascination with all things Royal!

Now, back to more recent times and I suppose to where it all began for William with the marriage of his parents, Princess Diana, then of course, Lady Diana and Prince Charles. I sometimes wish that Charles could have married Camilla instead of Diana but then the boy Princes would never have been born. Everything happens for a reason, I guess.

We all remember the joy we felt when William was born then when a little over two years later he was joined by his brother, Harry we could barely contain our delight! There is no questioning the love these two boys received from their parents but it's those images of the young Princes with their mother where clearly they are enjoying her company and she's showing such affection towards them that will always remain dear to us.

All I hope for William and Catherine, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge as they are now known for the time being is that they are above all blessed with health and happiness and later the joy of children, everything else will follow.

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