Shaking off history in favour of a future
It was all over in a flash, and yet the political landscape in
Of course, the reaction to the thing itself was rather less ordinary. Furore on both sides of the divide, anger about it going too far and matching claims that meeting one debased the other. But in a place where too much importance is often put on the smallest of things, this was a moment for the books and one that elevated the reputations of its protagonists immeasurably. Here was McGuinness, meeting the woman he'd sworn to overthrow and with whom he'd waged bitter war for decades. She was on the throne during the worst of Northern Ireland's troubles and it was in her name that the terrible events of Bloody Sunday – when he was serving as the second in command of the Provisional IRA's Derry operation – were committed. An
And here was the Queen, the focus of a half-century of hatred and the head of a state that men like McGuinness believe should not exist, meeting the man who was leading the PIRA when it assassinated her cousin, Lord Louis Mountbatten in a brutal attack in 1979 – at the same time murdering two teenage boys and an elderly woman. Just three of the incidental tragedies of a long and terrible war. That point might have crossed the mind of the event's guest of honour, the great poet Michael Longley, who in his well-known poem Ceasefire wrote: “I get down on my knees and do what must be done, and kiss Achilles’s hand, the killer of my son.”
Privately, perhaps neither wanted the meeting and yet it was and is vital for both. As the unelected head of the ruling royal family and the former paramilitary-turned-politician, both Queen Elizabeth and McGuinness are the very definition of the divide. Their example is integral to the future of the peace in Northern Ireland. The phrase “peace process” has been used so much on the island of Ireland that it has almost lost its meaning, but we must all remember that this is a “process” –- and a long one. The meeting on June 27 showed what's possible; if McGuinness and the Queen can overcome the past and come together, then anyone can. Co-operation Ireland's Sheridan hit the nail on the head, by quoting one of Ulster's finest sons and another of its great poets, Seamus Heaney.
This was, he said, a day in which hope and history rhymed.