Ambassador, Ladies and Gentlemen I must say we’ve been so incredibly touched that you should have thought of inviting us to come and, as you put it, “put a toe into Irish water”, lapping gently at the walls of Buckingham Palace...! If I’d known all those years ago that the Irish Embassy was here I would have been throwing stones to attract attention!
Anyway it’s a great treat to join you all here and I can’t tell you how much we’ve enjoyed going round meeting so many of you. In fact I never thought I’d ever get round everyone. It’s always such fun meeting Irish people because you do have a great crack - and I know we’d have an even greater crack if I stayed a bit longer!
But I promise you it’s been a real treat to meet you and I hadn’t appreciated quite how many Irish live in this country, some say as many as six million once you’ve started taking into account second and third generations. Nor had I appreciated, regrettably in my ignorance, that there was such an enormous amount of trade and business that went on. In fact three times the amount of business is done between the UK and Ireland than is done with China. Presumably that’s why the Prime Minister has gone to China; he must have known about this!
Also, as you’ve said just now we owe so much here in this country to so many talented people from Ireland, many of whom are here this evening, who contribute a huge amount to the cultural scene, to business, singing, dance, you name it. Even Sir Terry Wogan here who, as far as my darling wife is concerned, has been her life stay for years on the wireless. I’ve never heard the end of it since he retired. It hasn’t been the same without him if I may say so.
So thank you, all of you, for what you contribute to this country. After meeting so many of you this evening I can see how many different Irish associations, societies and groups there are all around this country. I’m going to have my work cut out visiting one or two of you I suspect. I know so many of you are doing so much good work, particularly for the elderly Irish. Having been Patron for a long time now, both of Age Concern and Help the Aged, now joined together and called Age UK, I can only admire enormously what you all try to do for growing number of people who find it very difficult.
I particularly want to say how thrilled both my wife and I have been to have the treat of hearing such wonderful Irish music and some really beautiful singing from those who have just given us such a special evening. All I can say is both my wife and I have so loved our brief opportunity to visit here. I always come back with my spirits raised from having met Irish people. I don’t know what it is. It is very special and I’m not just saying that, I mean it. So thank you for the treat you’ve given us this evening and for reminding us of those very special links between both our countries.
The ancient land of Ireland does have a remarkable tradition of cultural and spiritual creativity. It can be a powerful magic for some and I can only say that the magic has worked itself on both of us.
Can I just say before I go that, at the end of the day, I think we should never forget that our acquaintance has been long and we can turn that knowing into something new and creative. We need no longer be victims of our difficult history with each other. Without glossing over the pain and suffering of the past, we can, I believe, integrate our history and memory in order to reap their subtle harvest of possibility. Imagination after all is the mother of possibility. So I hope we can endeavour to become subjects of our history and not its prisoners.