May 21, 2011


The week that Anglophobia died: Queen Elizabeth’s gesture at the Garden of Remembrance was a key moment in the histories of Ireland and Britain, marking the end of Anglophobia and of the British empire’s slow death (FINTAN O'TOOLE, 5/21/11, Irish Times)

IN IRELAND, the phrase “guests of the nation” has a bitterly ironic flavour.

It comes from the title of Frank O’Connor’s story, written in 1931 and set during the War of Independence. The story begins with ordinary human friendship – Englishmen and Irishmen calling each other “chum”. We gradually learn that the Englishmen are captured soldiers – hostages being held by the IRA, to be killed in reprisal for British executions of IRA prisoners. When told that they are indeed to be taken out and shot, one of the soldiers, Hawkins, gives a cry of despairing incomprehension: “Why did any of us want to plug him? What had he done to us? Weren’t we all chums? Didn’t we understand him and didn’t he understand us?”

This week, the phrase “guests of the nation” acquired a different meaning, free of irony and terror. Hawkins’s question – don’t we understand them and they us? – was tinged not with despair and incomprehension but with relief and hope. It seemed, finally, that the answer to the question might simply be “yes”.

O’Connor’s story suggested that, left to themselves, without the interventions of violence and power, Irish people and English people get on together rather well. It is cruel circumstance that has blighted a naturally decent relationship. Queen Elizabeth’s visit was essentially about bringing home the reality that those circumstances have changed for good.

On the cold, rational level, the visit didn’t change anything: it reflected a change that has already happened. The British and Irish Governments have been working very closely together on the Northern Ireland peace process since the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985 and especially since the mid-1990s. There are effectively no policy differences on by far the most sensitive area of British-Irish relations, a state of affairs that would seem astonishing had it not become a truism.

Once England had no enemies it just didn't matter that its back was exposed to the Irish. When Ronald Reagan won the Cold War it ended the three seemingly insoluble conflicts in South Africa, Palestine and Northern Ireland.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Posted by at May 21, 2011 6:50 AM

blog comments powered by Disqus