Peace and reconciliation since the killing of Ewart-Biggs
Last Thursday, the Christopher Ewart-Biggs Memorial Prize was awarded at a reception at the Department of Foreign Affairs in Iveagh House on St Stephen’s Green. I would be failing in my duty to you if I did not report that things were kind of quiet.
There was no Government Minister present. Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Eamon Gilmore sent his apologies. He was in London imploring the British not to leave the European Union. “We don’t want new barriers or borders – literal or metaphorical – coming between us,” he said in his speech to the Policy Network conference at the Guildhall on the same same night.
It was in this new political context that we Iveagh House-types spent a pleasant evening. The prize was presented by journalist and national treasure Olivia O’Leary, who was looking fab in a charcoal suit. Veteran television reporter Peter Taylor was given a special award for a career which was often spent reporting on Ireland. David McKittrick, co-author of Lost Lives, the compendium of the dead of the Troubles, and a previous Ewart-Biggs memorial prizewinner, stood by the wall.
I counted four people there under 40: one being one of the prizewinners (the prize was divided this year), Julieann Campbell from Derry. The others were John McDermott, a comment editor with the Financial Times; a charming young grandchild of the Ewart- Biggses; and the historian Robert Gerwarth.
The prospect of Britain having a referendum on leaving the EU throws into sharp relief the many ways in which Ireland and Britain are bound to each other. As the Tánaiste was pointing out on Thursday night, it is 40 years since we joined the EEC together. The Christopher Ewart-Biggs Memorial Prize comes from another era in Anglo-Irish relations.
In her acceptance speech, Julieann Campbell pointed out that she was only one year old when the award was established in the wake of the assassination of the British ambassador in 1976. He died when his car was blown up by a landmine as it left the ambassador’s residence, Glencairn House, Co Dublin. His three young children were nearby. His wife, Jane, was in London and heard the news of his death on the radio. Even in the terms of Ireland in the 1970s, it was deeply shocking.
But it was the good sense and generosity of Jane Ewart-Biggs after her husband’s death which was most impressive, as she gave an interview to RTÉ about how she bore no hatred towards her husband’s killers.
There is a story of how, when she was lying back in the chair getting her make-up done for that interview, she felt liquid dropping on her face and opened her eyes to see that it was the tears of the make- up woman, weeping as she worked.