Ard-Mhéara, Tainaste, a dhaoine uaisle,
[Lord Mayor, Tainaste, and Ladies & Gentlemen]
You can have no idea what a joy it is for my wife and myself to be back in Ireland once again on this our fourth visit in as many years. Your kindness in letting us return – this time to visit two more counties – is deeply appreciated.
As on each of our previous visits, we have been profoundly touched by the warmth of the reception we have received. And, as before, we have felt every single one of the ‘cead mille failte’ which are so generously bestowed on visitors to this special land.
Above all, I am most grateful, Lord Mayor, for the hospitality you have extended to us, particularly as I know that tomorrow you will hand over the Chains of Office to your successor. So I can only pray that the experience of this visit will not cause too much damage to your health in your last day in office!
I must also thank the Tanaiste, Simon Coveney, for his very kind words and for taking the time to accompany us during our visit. I know just how essential a role the Tanaiste plays in the relationship between our two countries. I know, too, that following, as he does, in a fine tradition of Ministers from Cork, the Tainaste is himself a very proud Corkonian – although I have to wonder if there is any other kind…!
Ladies and Gentlemen, you may possibly have begun to realize by now that Ireland is a country which my wife and I have come to love – above all for the warmth and humour of its people, the richness of its culture, the vibrancy of its contemporary society and the irresistible, haunting beauty of its landscape – a landscape which, as the priest and poet, John O’Donohue (whom I knew and admired greatly) described as “full of memory” and holding “the ruins and traces of ancient civilization.” Ireland is a country where the past informs the present, but where the future is being shaped with boundless dynamism and creativity. At the same time, for me, the uniqueness of Ireland lies, as John O’Donohue said, in the fact that “the celtic understanding didn’t set limitations of time and space on the soul.” It “had a wonderful respect for the mystery of the circle and the spiral. The circle never reduces the mystery to a single direction or preference.”
It is because of these wonderful qualities that my wife and I keep coming back to Ireland – North and South – to discover more special places and to meet more remarkable people. Over the past day or two we have, once again, been in Northern Ireland, where, in Belfast, in Coleraine, in Omagh and in the beauties of rural Tyrone, we were enormously encouraged to see how the people of that very special part of the world – from all traditions – are meeting the challenges of a divided past and embracing the opportunities of a shared future.
Here, in the Republic, we are thrilled to be able, at last, to come to Cork, which I know that some – perhaps all – of you consider, of course as we’ve heard several times today, to be Ireland’s “real capital!” We have heard so many marvellous things about Cork, not least from my own parents who so greatly enjoyed their visit to this city in 2011. In fact, when I told The Queen we were going to be visiting Cork she said “you must go to the English Market. You will love it!” So, in retracing The Queen and Prince Philip’s steps this morning to the English Market, we were delighted to find that it was just as magical as they had described; that the stallholders were as welcoming and that their produce was as irresistible as the quality of the fishmongers’ jokes…!
So Coming to Cork, with its proud history as a great maritime and trading city, gives us an opportunity to celebrate the strength of the economic and commercial relationship between our two countries which makes such a profound difference to us both. Indeed, expanding business opportunities between Cork and the regions of the United Kingdom is, I know, a key priority for the British Ambassador to Ireland and his team. I am delighted, therefore, that the Ambassador has asked me to say that he is to appoint the UK’s first “Honorary Prosperity Consul” in Cork – the first such appointment outside Dublin. This is a testament to Cork’s significance both to Ireland’s economy and to the relationship between Ireland and the United Kingdom.
So Ladies and Gentlemen, the partnership between our two countries could hardly be of greater importance. Today, we are not just neighbours, but old friends who, tragically, have travelled a troubled road, along which many wrongs have been done. I wonder, here, whether I might quote the words of a Cork man, the poet and theologian Padraig O’Tuama, whom I met when my wife and I visited the Corrymeela Community in Northern Ireland three years ago. His poem, ‘Shaking hands’ makes reaching out an imperative of leadership:
Because what’s the alternative?
Because of courage.
Because of loved ones lost.
Because no more.
The poet does not pretend that such understanding is easy:
Because it is tough.
Because it is meant to be tough, and this is the stuff of memory, the stuff of hope, the stuff of gesture, and meaning and leading.
Because it has taken so, so long.
With reconciliation and understanding as our guides, we have found a new path to shared prosperity and security, and we are determined that we must never lose our way again.
If I may say so, this is precisely why I have felt it of such importance that we should keep coming to Ireland – to demonstrate, in whatever small way we can, just how vital and valuable the ties between our countries are to us all. On each visit we have met so many unforgettable people who are doing such noteworthy things to strengthen that relationship, in almost every imaginable sphere. I therefore have nothing but the greatest confidence that the friendship, collaboration and mutual understanding that Ireland and the United Kingdom have enjoyed over recent years will endure, as we work together to find solutions to shared challenges and as our relationship evolves in the months and years ahead.
Last year, my wife and I had the great joy of visiting, with the President of Ireland, the Homeplace of Seamus Heaney in his native village of Bellaghy. Having had the good fortune to have met Seamus Heaney, whose work I also greatly admire, it was particularly special to see for myself the place which had inspired so much of his work.
His poetry, as you will know far better than me, is rooted in the rural Ireland which continues to be such fertile ground for so many artists. In his poem, "The Harvest Bow", he remembers the custom of plaiting a bow to mark the end of the harvest. He says:
The end of art is peace
Could be the motto of this frail device
That I have pinned up on our deal dresser –
Like a drawn snare
Slipped lately by the spirit of the corn
Yet burnished by its passage, and still warm.
The harvest is, of course, the work of many hands, the result of much preparation, and of long labour. So as we play our own part in the work before us, let us always remember that, as Heaney said, "The end of art is peace."
Beir bua agus beannacht
[Good luck and blessings]