Friday, 20 May 2011

Feeling Irish... and the Queen

So... this week has been the Queen's visit to Ireland, and for some reason I found myself crying throughout the coverage. I had to sit down and figure out what was going on.

I lived in Ireland for a long time, although I'm English I feel about half-Irish (married to an Irishman with 2 Irish kids). But, as you may know, the English haven't always been very popular in Ireland, for some very good reasons.

Although I always felt accepted by most Irish people, and lucky enough to be loved by some, there was always a feeling in the back of my mind that I was essentially a foreigner, and would never really Belong. The Irish term for this is 'blow-in', and I could never shake it off.

Seeing the Queen visiting Ireland this week, and seeing Irish people allowing themselves to be so enthusiastic about her visit, has been very moving for me. I'm sure there are plenty of Irish people who aren't really bothered either way (I'm not a monarchist myself), but for the most part, people seem to be happy and excited about the visit, and keen to discuss all the plans and details. Everybody in Ireland was talking about the itinerary, and the fact that each single visit carried a heavy weight of symbolism.

Seeing her lay a wreath in the Garden of Remembrance was just amazing. The British monarch walking the streets of Cork shaking hands with the public was something I never thought I'd see. And her speech felt like a very personal expression of many of my own feelings. The sadness for the tragic history between our two countries, the difficulties of bringing up my children with their shared heritage in its shadow. I didn't even know I felt any of this, I'd never really tried to articulate it, as it just was the way things were. I never talk to my Irish friends about being English in Ireland, some of them have had more difficult experiences being Irish in England.

I have heard so many Irish people criticize the English, part of it being the painful history that there is no denying, and part of it just typical neighbourly stereotyping. (Like we do with the French and Germans). The need for England to lose at the football, no matter who they were playing. I did tell my husband in the end that it made me uncomfortable, and that he should consider the fact that his children are equally half-English.

I do wish the Queen had apologised, but I do feel that she went out of her way to convey her sorrow for all the horrendous events that have occurred in our shared history. For me, it felt like a healing, as if 'we the English' were being officially welcomed onto Irish soil for the first time. That's why I cried.

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