President’s State visit to Britain
Sir, – I was born in England to Irish parents who had emigrated in the 1950s, along with so many others, in the hope of a better life. I learned to tie my shoelaces there, went to school, played on the street and made friends. We would visit Ireland on our holidays, so I was giddy with excitement when it was announced that we were selling the house and moving back to the old country. It was time. We were going home. I was nine years old.
My first day in primary school in Drogheda was like a scene from Oliver Twist . I had stepped back 100 years. Nevertheless, children are adaptable and I soon settled in to a new life, new street and new friends.
I was as Irish as anyone, perhaps more so having experienced emigration, but a small part of me was of England. I was of two countries in the same way that we are all of two parents. And my countries were not happy. In fact, they were divorcing, in a bitter, painful and drawn-out way. I remember the hunger strikes as the darkest time. Like a child trying to reconcile his warring parents, I would tell my friends that English people did not wish Ireland ill. And when I emigrated to England in the 1980s, along with so many others, in the hope of a better life, I would explain to my English friends that things happen for a reason in Ireland — that there was a traumatic history that could not be denied.
Roll forward a few years and Queen Elizabeth is wearing green and our President, Michael D Higgins, is standing on red carpet on a State visit to the United Kingdom. My parents have reconciled after so many lost years and are together again. They are talking and laughing and having tea parties in the garden. The family is reborn. Yours, etc,
Sir, – Born in England of an Irish family a little over 60 years ago, I, along with many others in the same circumstances, have developed a technique of ignoring as graciously as possible the many slights, and worse, which come with the turf.
It is a sad thing to feel obliged to keep a low profile as regards your heritage, to not know quite where you fit in to the grand scheme of things. From being a bit of a Paddy to the English, to taking stick for my Brit accent in Ireland, I cannot tell you just how good it feels to see the President of Ireland, and as such, the Irish people, being so well and warmly received in London, and rightly so.
Full marks to all who have brought about this momentous change. What great comfort to think that the troubles of centuries could be on the way to becoming a thing of the past, consigned hopefully to history, not to be forgotten, but to be found in a better place.
To be able to celebrate what is great about both countries, their peoples and civilisations – and there is a great deal to celebrate of both nations – is a truly liberating and uplifting moment. I am not overly given to sentimentality, but today I shed a tear of joy and was surprised that it could taste so sweet. A truly great day indeed. Yours, etc,