A sense of coming together as many turn out to greet 'Banríon Eilís a Dó'
Enniskillen got a chance to escape from its troubled past during the royal visit
OUR OWN Bertie Ahern has a rival in the “meet-and-greet” stakes. If you thought there was nobody who could work a crowd like the former taoiseach, you should have seen Queen Elizabeth in action at Enniskillen yesterday.
The standard greeting of the Drumcondra politician is “How’s the hard-working man (or woman)?”
The British monarch doesn’t do chat-up lines, content to give one of her smiles instead.
Her admirers waited in the rain, from 5am, across the street from St Macartin’s Cathedral, waving Union Jacks.
The queen was scheduled to arrive six hours later, at 11am, but the greater power that determines the weather decided her aircraft would be unable to land at the local airport.
She was diverted to Belfast and did the second leg of the journey by helicopter, arriving at the cathedral just before noon for the service of thanksgiving to mark her Diamond Jubilee.
There was an ecumenical gathering that ranged from Church of Ireland Archbishop of Armagh, the Most Rev Alan Harper, to Cardinal Seán Brady to former Ulster Unionist leader David, now Baron, Trimble and Alasdair McDonnell, leader of the SDLP.
Even Oscar Wilde and Samuel Beckett had a ghostly connection with the occasion, through the presence of the chamber choir from their alma mater, Portora Royal School, who performed a religious song to the haunting air of Danny Boy.
The scene was dripping with history: one of the bells in the cathedral tower was made out of cannon taken from King James II at the Battle of the Boyne and given as a present by William of Orange.
But history is a nightmare from which the people of Northern Ireland are trying to awake and there was a definite air of reconciliation about yesterday’s ceremony and its aftermath in the nearby Catholic church.
First Minister Peter Robinson read the lesson in the cathedral which was taken from St Matthew’s Gospel, advising us all to refrain from pointing out the flaws of others until we had first of all corrected our own.
A similar note was struck by Cardinal Brady, and the archbishop ventured into the Irish language when he referred to Banríon Eilís a Dó, which is Queen Elizabeth the second in the Saxon tongue.
Highlighting the significance of her state visit to the Republic last year, he said it heralded “a new day for all the people of this island”.
But the monarch made another move which in the long term might even overshadow the significance of her much-publicised encounter with Sinn Fein’s Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness this morning.
This was when she crossed the street to St Michael’s, the first time, in her 20 royal visits to Northern Ireland, that she has visited a Catholic church.
There she met a wide array of representatives of community, charitable and sporting organisations including local GAA figures.
And there was a walkabout during which she met admirers such as Norah Conway, from nearby Ballycassidy, who gave her a posy of flowers.
She also met, elsewhere, with survivors of the 1987 Remembrance Sunday bombing in which 11 people died.
Although the meeting with the survivors was held in private and the monarch did not visit the scene of the massacre, nevertheless the forgiving spirit of the late senator Gordon Wilson, whose daughter Marie was killed that day, hovered over yesterday’s events.
A fine town in a beautiful lakeland setting, Enniskillen has known horrors and atrocities in the past but this occasion certainly underlined the feeling that, like the rest of us, it has been given a second chance.