Full text of President Higgins address to State Banquet
The following is the full text of the address given by President Michael D. Higgins to a State Banquet in Windsor Castle this evening
President Michael D. Higgins and Queen Elizabeth during the banquet held at Windsor Castle this evening. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times
A Shoilse Banríon, A Mhargacht Ríoga:
Your Majesty, Your Royal Highness:
Thank you for your kind and generous welcome and for the warm hospitality you have extended to me, to Sabina and to our delegation.
That welcome is very deeply felt and appreciated by me, and by the people of Ireland, whom I represent. However long it may have taken, Your Majesty, I can assure you that this first State Visit of a President of Ireland to the United Kingdom is a very visible sign of the warmth and maturity of the relationship between our two countries. It is something to be truly welcomed and celebrated.
You famously used some words of Irish during your State Visit to Ireland. Today I would also like to draw from the oral tradition of our ancient language a seanfhocal, or wise saying, often applied to the mutuality of relationships. It observes simply:
Ar scáth a chéile a mhairimid
Because scáth literally means shadow, this phrase is sometimes translated as we live in the shadow of each other. However, there is a more open and more accommodating meaning.
Scáth also means shelter. The word embodies the simple truth that physical proximity brings with it an inevitability of both mutual influence and interaction. But more importantly, I believe, it implies reciprocal hospitality and generosity; the kind of generosity reflected in your words this evening that encourages us to embrace the best version of each other.
Ireland and Britain live in both the shadow and in the shelter of one another, and so it has been since the dawn of history. Through conquest and resistance, we have cast shadows on each other, but we have also gained strength from one another as neighbours and, most especially, from the contribution of those who have travelled between our islands in recent decades.
The contribution of Irish men and Irish women to life in Britain, which Your Majesty has acknowledged with such grace, is indeed extensive and lends itself to no simple description. It runs from building canals, roads and bridges in previous decades, to running major companies in the present, all the while pouring Irish personality and imagination into the English language and its literature.
Like so many of our compatriots, Sabina and I feel very much at home when visiting Britain, which should be the case with our nearest neighbour and our close friend.
Tonight we celebrate the deeply personal, close neighbourly connection which is embodied in the hundreds of thousands of Irish and British people who have found shelter on each others shores.
History evolves, if we are fortunate, into greater mutual understanding between peoples. The welcome that is so naturally afforded to British visitors in Ireland today was, I think, wholeheartedly expressed on the occasion of your State Visit in 2011. Your gracious and genuine curiosity, your evident delight in that visit, including its equine dimension, made it very easy for us to express to you and, through you to the British people, the warmth of neighbourly feelings. It laid the basis for an authentic and ethical hospitality between our two countries.
Admirably, you chose not to shy away from the shadows of the past, recognising that they cannot be ignored when we consider the relationship between our islands. We valued your apt and considered words when you addressed some of the painful moments of our mutual history, and we were moved by your gestures of respect at sites of national historical significance in Ireland.