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Michael D Higgins address guests this evening. Screengrab/RTÉ
State Banquet

'The shadow of the past has become the shelter of the present': The President's Windsor address

“While we grieve together for lost lives, we will not let any painful aspect of our shared history deflect us from crafting a future that offers hope and opportunity for the British and Irish people.”

PRESIDENT HIGGINS RAISED a toast to the ‘health and happiness’ of Queen Elizabeth and her husband, Prince Philip, at this evening’s Windsor State banquet.

It came after a speech that conveyed the changing nature of the relationship between Ireland and the UK.

The State dinner, in St George’s Hall, followed a day of events that celebrated the close ties between Ireland and the UK and included a historic speech by the President to both Houses of Parliament.

The Queen said that the British and the Irish are becoming “good and dependable neighbours” and are “finally shedding our inhibitions about seeing the best in each other”.

President Higgins state visit to Britain - Day Two Dan Kitwood Dan Kitwood

Referring to the Queen Elizabeth’s 2011 Irish visit, and her historic Dublin Castle speech, the President opened his speech with a phrase as Gaeilge.

Today I would also like to draw from the oral tradition of our ancient language a seanfhocal, or wise saying, often applied to the mutuality of relationships. It observes simply:“ar scáth a chéile a mhairimíd.”

Because scáth literally means shadow, this phrase is sometimes translated as – “we live in the shadow of each other.” However, there is a more open and more accommodating meaning.

Scáth also means shelter. The word embodies the simple truth that physical proximity brings with it an inevitability of both mutual influence and interaction. But more importantly, I believe, it implies reciprocal hospitality and generosity; the kind of generosity reflected in your words this evening that encourages us to embrace the best version of each other.

President Higgins revisited the theme of ‘scáth’ several times as he delivered his speech to the assembled guests — which included Taoiseach Enda Kenny, Prime Minister David Cameron and Northern Ireland’s First and Deputy First Ministers Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness.

Kenny, Cameron and McGuinness were seen chatting together prior to the banquet getting under way, while the event was also attended by several high-profile Irish celebrities, including actor Daniel Day-Lewis and rugby hero Brian O’Driscoll.

President Higgins state visit to Britain - Day Two Dan Kitwood Dan Kitwood


Higgins also spoke once again about the contribution of the Irish diaspora to the development of British society, saying “it runs from building canals, roads and bridges in previous decades, to running major companies in the present, all the while pouring Irish personality and imagination into the English language and its literature”.

President Higgins state visit to Britain - Day Two Dan Kitwood Dan Kitwood

Continuing his speech, the President once again referred to the Queen’s Irish visit three years ago (when she delivered her memorable remarks that in hindsight ‘we can all see things which we would wish had been done differently, or not at all’).

Admirably, you chose not to shy away from the shadows of the past, recognising that they cannot be ignored when we consider the relationship between our islands.We valued your apt and considered words when you addressed some of the painful moments of our mutual history, and we were moved by your gestures of respect at sites of national historical significance in Ireland.

Later, the President said:

We must, however, never set aside or forget those who died, were bereaved, or injured, during a tragic conflict. As the French philosopher Paul Ricoeur wrote, to be forgotten is to die twice.We owe a duty to all those who lost their lives, the duty to build together in peace; it is the only restitution, the only enduring justice we can offer them.We share, also, the imperative to be unwavering in our support of the people of Northern Ireland as we journey together towards the shelter and security of true reconciliation.

We celebrate what has been achieved but we must also constantly renew our commitment to a process that requires vigilance and care. Your Majesty:We have moved on from a past where our relations were often troubled, to a present where – as you have indicated – Ireland and the United Kingdom meet each other in mutual respect, close partnership and sincere friendship.

That friendship is informed by the many matters of mutual interest in which we work together and support one another.

Before delivering his toast, President Higgins once again turned to Irish…

Ar scáth a chéile a mhairimíd. The shadow of the past has become the shelter of the present. While we grieve together for lost lives, we will not let any painful aspect of our shared history deflect us from crafting a future that offers hope and opportunity for the British and Irish people.

We again thank you for the hospitality that allows us, on this most joyous occasion, to celebrate the bonds of mutual understanding between our two peoples, and the warm, enduring friendship on which we have so happily embarked.

I therefore invite you, distinguished guests, to stand and join me in a toast:To the health and happiness of Her Majesty and His Royal Highness, and the people of the United Kingdom;To a creative cooperation and a sustainable partnership between our countries and our peoples; andTo valued neighbours whose friendship we truly cherish.

Go raibh maith agaibh go léir.

In the Queen’s opening speech, she paid tribute to the historic and modern links between the two countries.

President Higgins state visit to Britain - Day Two Dan Kitwood Dan Kitwood

She also drew a laugh, when, referring to the London Olympics of 2012, she noted:

It took someone of Irish descent — Danny Boyle — to get me to jump from a helicopter.

The monarch said that the current relationship between Britain and Ireland should be about “cooperating to each others mutual benefit” and “at ease in each others company”.

Concluding, she said the two islands should “no longer allow our past to ensnare our future”.

She added: “We are walking together towards a brighter and more settled future.”

  • Follow @oconnellhugh for updates from the State visit on Wednesday.

- with reporting from Hugh O’Connell 

Earlier: ‘A closeness and warmth that once seemed unachieveble’: Higgins’ address to Westminster 

Round-up: Here’s everything that’s happened so far on Michael D’s historic State visit to the UK

In full: Follow all our State Visit coverage here > 

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