The many traditions between the peoples of Britain and Ireland date back thousands of years with for example, early forms of Gaelic documented in western parts of Britain in the 4th century AD. Clans and Kingdoms sought to continuously clear the way for trade and prosperity across the two islands, sharing culture, language, and religion. During the President’s recent state visit to the UK, he commented rather wisely on the relationship between the two countries and stated “ar scáth a chéile a mhairimíd.” He added that whilst this can translate as “we live in the shadow of each other”, it can also perhaps mean that “we live under the shelter of each other.” The President then suggested that indeed, both translations can apply and his trip to the UK this month has perhaps cleared the way for a new beginning in the relationship between Ireland and Britain.
Some have intimated that the recent Irish visit to the UK was the first such trip by a leader of Ireland since 1175, when the High King of Ireland met the King of England to sign the Windsor Treaty. It was hoped at that time that the Treaty would clear the way for helpful relations between the two islands to address in part, the various tensions arising in Ireland from the Norman settlements; which were preceded by centuries of settlements by the Vikings. Rather aptly, this month’s visit by the Irish President to the UK has further enhanced the ties, bonds, and culture between the peoples of these two islands, with additional hopes of reducing tensions in Northern Ireland.
During the centuries following the signing of the Windsor Treaty, events reflected the complexities of religious and political tensions and conflicts of the times. However, in 1914, one hundred and fourteen years after the creation of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, the Irish Home Rule Bill was passed, with the support of over 80 Irish MPs in the House of Commons. With the enactment of Home Rule pending, a way was cleared to rebalance the dynamics between these two islands, whilst incorporating the connections and bounds across the Irish Sea.
However, as we commemorate the centenaries of World War One, we acknowledge the hundreds of thousands of Irishmen who followed the calls of their parliamentarian leaders, such as Willie Redmond. They joined their comrades from Scotland, Wales, England, and others to defeat Germany in the fields of France and Belgium; with tens of thousands giving their lives in the process. We are also preparing though, for the centenary of the 1916 rebellion, in which a group of Irish people liaised with Germany to stage an uprising in Ireland for independence. As we have heard and read in recent RTE broadcasts, their actions resulted in the deaths of approximately 40 children, along with hundreds of Irish policemen and soldiers in the weeks, months, and years that followed. Indeed, an RTE documentary this month referred to the above matters and commented that instead of clearing the way for Irish unity, the most significant casualty of the 1916 rebellion was a united Ireland.
Having left the UK, it is now 65 years since Ireland became a republic. However, following years of hostility, animosity or indifference towards the Britain, the events of the last twenty years have seen peace and relative prosperity flourish across these two islands. Indeed, when the economy recently crashed in Ireland it was the UK that stepped up so prominently to help the Irish people. With billions of euro in trade between the two countries occurring on a monthly basis, there are literally hundreds of thousands of jobs dependent on UK-Irish connections. The bonds between these two islands are now being voiced openly across the British and Irish media, with inter-government collaboration now at unprecedented levels. The once jaundiced and myopic reductionism of narrow nationalism is being replaced by a balanced, respectful and congruent validation of the shared identity between the peoples of Britain and Ireland.
On the last night of President Higgins’ state visit to the UK this month, he attended a celebration of Irish music at the Royal Albert Hall, entitled ‘Ceilúiradh.’ The concert included a combined performance by musicians from the Irish Defence Forces (IDF), the Irish Guards, and the Royal Irish Regiment (RIR). The latter two of these are of course Irish regiments in the British Army, which include many Irish service members. Building on last year’s combined deployment between the IDF and the RIR to Africa, the concert perhaps illustrates the motto of the RIR, ‘Faugh a Ballagh’ or ‘clear the way.’ Indeed, is it time to clear that way for further improved relations with the UK and see an independent Republic of Ireland return to the Commonwealth?
The Commonwealth is a truly global association of fifty-two independent nations, thirty-two of which are republics. There are twenty-one million people of Irish descent residing in Commonwealth countries and the organization’s charter is focused on promoting human rights. Decisions are made democratically via an elected secretariat, and the Queen fulfils a purely ceremonial role. Membership of the Commonwealth would significantly recognise and strengthen the ties we have to so many countries within which the Irish have sought shelter (or ‘scáth’) over the years. It would also expand Irish opportunities for trade, as the Taoiseach emphasised at the recent meeting of the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly. Ultimately, with new economic, cultural, social, and sporting opportunities ready and waiting, perhaps Ireland could consider the remarks of a former Secretary General of the Commonwealth, the West Indian, Sammy Ramphal, when he implored Ireland to re-enter the Commonwealth and ‘come home.’
Reform Group (c) 2014