My wife and I are enormously touched to have been invited to visit you all here, at Corrymeela. IN my case it's paticularly special to be able to come back after all these years. I have such happy memories of my visit here in 1998 which was of course a landmark year in the history of our islands.
Of all places, the Corrymeela Community reminds us of the patient and painful work that must be done to heal the divisions that have, in the past, brought such sorrow to this most beautiful part of the world. Therefore, it is particularly special to be here now in your Golden Anniversary year and to see at first-hand all that you have achieved as qui oyou seek to engage in what have been called "uncomfortable conversations". It is a great tribute to your tireless work that you have been so successful in encouraging dialogue as a means of healing and in discovering respectful ways of addressing hard issues - issues which have left none of us unaffected.
Indeed, Corrymeela is a beneficiary of the fund set up in memory of my godson, Nicholas Knatchbull, who was killed at Mullaghmore in 1979 along with his grandfather and my beloved great uncle, Lord Mountbatten, his young friend, Paul Maxwell, and his grandmother, the Dowager Lady Brabourne.
Our visit to Sligo this week allowed my wife and I to spend time in a place which the victims of that tragedy held so dear, and also to attend, at Drumcliff Church, an immensely moving service of reconciliation for the hurts of the past, which have been suffered, as you and I know all too well, by all sides. From our shared wounds and scars, we can, I hope, I prey, share healing, and a friendship made all the stronger for the trials it has overcome.
We have all suffered too much. Too many people's loved ones have been killed or maimed. Surely, it is time, as I said in Sligo two days ago, that we become the subjects of our history and not its prisoners.
Surely, too, in the roots of Corrymeela, we can discover lessons that can serve as a model to all who strive for peace and reconciliation. As you know so much better than I, Corrymeela was founded by Ray Davey, a remarkable man whose experience of suffering as a prisoner of war inspired him to wrestle with the question of building community amidst conflict. I was lucky enough to meet him when I came here all those years ago. It was this vision that led him to establish a place where people of different backgrounds, different political and religious beliefs and different identities could gather to break bread, to work together, to learn and, most of all, to talk about the hurts which are too deep to bear in silence. As I said earlier this week in Sligo, healing is possible even when the heartache continues and the fruits of Corrymeela over the past fifty years bear testament to this.
One can only imagine that Ray Davey's heart would have been gladdened to see the administrations in Dublin and London today working together so closely; to see the warm welcomes afforded to The Queen and to The President of Ireland as they visited each others' countries; to see just how far the peace process has come and to see the sense of common purpose shared by the people of this island as they pursue the path of reconciliation.
As you will know better than me, Ladies and Gentlemen, the story of Northern Ireland is seen around the world as a shining example of what can be achieved when people commit themselves to ending conflict.
But, of course, the story is not over; there is much more still to do. On our visit to County Sligo this week, we visited Drumcliff Churchyard, the burial place of the great poet W.B.Yeats, to mark the hundred and fiftieth anniversary of his birth. Yeats, of course, had many great insights into the human condition and historic events. But, if I may, I would like to refer to the work of one of his contemporaries, the poet Helen Waddell, from Northern Ireland, who was a fellow-member, with Yeats, of the Irish Literary Society, and who died fifty years ago this year. In one haunting poem, she talks about how ultimate peace, how the divine, is encountered in human contact, in community. In her poem, the speaker, seeking solace in her spirit, contemplates walking the windswept landscape of the Ulster coast, and she asks:
Would you think Heaven could be so small a thing As a lit window on the hills at night?--
She is saying, I believe, that it is in the intimate, necessary setting of the everyday that the great issues must be, and can be, resolved. In her poem, the speaker envisages a moment when she will:
...come in stumbling from the gloom,
Half-blind, into a firelit room.
Turn, and see you,
And there abide.
It is, I think, a moving vision of coming home from darkness, exclusion and coldness to light, acceptance and warmth. In Corrymeela, for fifty years, you have been that lit window on the hill; you have given peace a home. May we, from all our traditions, with all our memories and all our regrets, and with God's blessing, make a home for peace in our own hearts....