Two nations with a shared narrative

Spirit of friendship and partnership has continued to grow between Ireland and Britain, writes President Michael D Higgins

President Michael D Higgins visits the Haringey Irish Cultural and Community Centre in north London in July of last year.

President Michael D Higgins visits the Haringey Irish Cultural and Community Centre in north London in July of last year.


As I prepare for the first state visit by a President of Ireland to the United Kingdom, I am encouraged and strengthened by the knowledge that I take with me the support, warmth and good wishes of the Irish people.

It is almost three years since the historic visit of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth to Ireland. That visit was characterised by a warmth and good will that conveyed to the world the positive quality of our interdependence, as well as the depth and complexity of the relationship between our peoples. That spirit of friendship and partnership has continued to grow, and today we enjoy a relationship with Great Britain that is founded on mutual respect and is warmer than it has ever been in our long and shared story.

Our nations share a unique proximity. We also share a common narrative, woven through the manifold connections between our people and our heritage, as well as a language and a literature that have been enriched by a distinctive Irish sensibility. Today, it is as equal partners that we engage with the European Union and the world in political negotiations, do business and trade together, and cooperate in the fields of science and technologies.

Our proximity, both physical and cultural, lies at the heart of a strong economic relationship between our two countries; a relationship that is of mutual benefit and is critical to the economic recovery and growing prosperity of Ireland and Great Britain. The flow of goods, investment and capital between our shores demonstrates a level of interconnectedness that is rare between two nations, even by the standards of today’s global and increasingly interlinked world.

Even rarer, however, is the generous sharing of creativity, innovation and research between our two islands. This spirit of co-operation in intellectual and applied work not only enriches our social and cultural ties, but allows our two countries to make a significant contribution to a global economy emerging from crisis; towards the creation of a sustainable economy whose values are founded on full participation, the encouragement of original thinking and the fostering of creativity. Building on ancient scholarly connections, today our scientists and technologists work together at the frontiers of innovation in science and technology.

Positive future
Our young people, on both sides of the Irish Sea, have a key role to play in the achievement of our hopes for a positive future, and the continuation of our shared journey as friends and partners in each of our economies and societies. As President of Ireland, I established the “Being Young and Irish” initiative, aimed at forming a new discourse on citizenship that would listen to the voices of young Ireland. From that experience I know that it is important, as neighbours and close partners, that we also listen to the voices of young Britain and that we enable the young people of these islands to craft together a shared vision of the future. I will, during my visit, meet with some of those young people and hear their thoughts and insights as they envisage that shared future; a future which in recent times is being built on strong and enduring foundations.

A true friendship has been described as one where each partner wishes only good for the other. It was and is a shared commitment to the common good which drove and inspired the peace process in Northern Ireland, and which lies at the heart of the new friendship which now exists between our two islands. While the work of reconciliation and dealing with the legacy of a divisive past continues, we face the challenges ahead with confidence and with a strong sense of our shared values and common purpose.

During her visit to Ireland, Queen Elizabeth spoke movingly of: “stories written daily across these islands which do not find their voice in solemn pages of history books, or newspaper headlines, but which are at the heart of our shared narrative.”

They are, of course, stories of kinship and friendship – stories of emigration, of integration, and of families linked by blood across two separate Islands, of lives lived together. They may be everyday stories, but they are stories that have always had the power to transcend historical animosities and political differences of the day and they constitute unbreakable bonds between our two countries.

Such stories are ones which constantly and rightly remind us of the great debt of gratitude we owe to our Diaspora in Great Britain. Many of our emigrants left our shores reluctantly to seek a better future and to support the families they had left behind. While building the roads, railways and housing of modern Britain, their contributions were also helping to lay the basic building blocks of a new Ireland of wellbeing and opportunity.

Successful and fulfilled
Today the Irish community is represented in all areas of British life; its members lead successful and fulfilled lives while retaining a deep pride in their Irish roots. As President of Ireland, I want to express my gratitude and appreciation to Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth, for her most gracious gesture of hospitality in welcoming members of the Irish community in Britain to Buckingham Palace last week.

Many of those Irish in Britain today have inherited the strands of two rich cultural heritages. In weaving them together into new patterns, they have combined the best of those heritages to make something new, open and ever-changing that is reflected in the European and multicultural dimension of modern Ireland and Britain.

Ireland and Britain now enjoy a mature relationship, one that recognises all that we hold in common while respecting our unique differences.

My visit will, I hope, celebrate and consolidate this new stage in our relationship, reinforce our commitment to a positive future and encourage a continued fostering of friendship and co-operation between our two nations as we face new challenges. We have achieved a transformation that once seemed impossible, and I am confident that together we can face future challenges with courage, imagination and a generous spirit of true friendship.

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