An Uachtaráin agus Bean Uí hUiginn
Go raibh maith agaibh asucht an fáilte chroiuil
(Mr. President & Mrs. Higgins, thank you for the warm welcome)
If I may say so, I did want to thank you, dear Mr. President, for your very kind and generous words. I am afraid that after your typically erudite and witty remarks, what I might say in reply reminds me of Sean O’Casey’s observation that “all the world’s a stage, and most of us are desperately unrehearsed!”
But I would hope that, by now, you know me well enough to realise it is always an immense pleasure for both my darling wife and I to be here in Ireland. Once again, we have received the warmest of welcomes, which has served to remind us just how much we have always loved visiting your country.
It never ceases to move me, I must say, not to say fascinate me how, in nearly every conversation you might have here, Ireland’s rich cultural and literary heritage is always so present and immediate. So I don’t need to tell you, of all people, Mr. President, that you enjoy an enviably rich culture in which a love of music, art and, in particular, the written and spoken word is so alive. I suppose that is what you end up with if you have a language that is the third oldest literary language in Europe, making poetry in Gaelic surely among the oldest vernacular poetry in the world. The word is clearly in the blood!
But what always strikes me as unique is the way in which those words are laced with an uncomplicated, but deep love and connection with the Earth, in all its dimensions. Your ancient mythology is just as alive in the Irish imagination as the concerns of the every day. After your many years of dedicated effort, Mr. President, that remarkable interplay of myth, philosophy, wit and insight – famed throughout the world in the Irish imagination – is in very fine health. It is no wonder that Ireland continues to be able to claim more Nobel literary laureates per square foot than any other country in the world!
I mention this because the poetic and literary aspect of Irish culture has always acted on the British like a magnet. It is one of the many reasons why the United Kingdom has long felt such a strong affinity with Ireland and why our cultural and economic relationship, and the connections between our people, must be maintained and hopefully become even stronger. I say this fully aware of the current challenges that both of our countries face. So, whatever happens, I hope you can be confident that there will be no diminishing of the regard The United Kingdom has for the Republic of Ireland, nor a reduction in the commitment to what we have jointly established in more recent years, namely our efforts to encourage reconciliation between the communities who live in both parts of the island of Ireland, and indeed between our two countries. That effort is one of the main reasons I have felt it so important to keep bothering you with my visits, to demonstrate The United Kingdom’s continued commitment to the peace. There is now a palpable and very welcome trust between us that is best described by Seamus Heaney when he talked of the need for a belief that "a further shore is reachable from here". It would be too much of a tragedy if all that hard work was in any way weakened.
It should perhaps go without saying that the core of the Christian faith is reconciliation. But what I have discovered during my many visits on both sides of the border is what lies at the core of reconciliation… which is the process of enabling communities that have been divided and have injured each other to reach out across the divide to build a strong and sustainable relationship based upon a sense of the common good. By the very nature of that process, no such relationship is possible if any one community sits in isolation from the rest. But it is also only possible if each community is first of all confident of its own heritage and of its own identity. Only then, with compassion and humility, can it seek to define itself alongside those who have another identity, recognizing that “the other” is equally valid.
I would suggest that, in recent years, the Republic of Ireland and The United Kingdom have achieved this in such a dramatic way that our joint efforts have become a beacon for the rest of the world; an example of how to build a peace and create an enduring and mutually productive relationship between close neighbours. I have no doubt, despite current challenges, that our relationship will continue to endure and prosper, and it will do so in no small way because of the natural generosity of spirit that exists here and the integrity of the culture of Ireland which you, Mr. President, amongst many others, have so ably nurtured and protected.
If I may, I would like to raise my glass and say,
Sláinte Uachtar áin is muintir na hÉireann a ól