Winnipeg Free Press | 18May2011 | Staff Writer

Lessons of visit to Dublin

The Canadian Museum for Human Rights is considering telling the story of Irish suffering in a gallery that might be called Recovery and Reconciliation. Some Irish Catholics could dispute that decision, arguing it belongs in a zone for mass atrocities.

[W.Z. In a Canadian context with its large Irish population, this would be even more relevant and instructive than the Jewish Holocaust.]

It's an important and compelling story that occupies some 800 years of history, but the museum has it right. The most instructive aspect of the ancient Anglo-Irish feud is that the two sides have found a way out of the cycle of violence.

There are still hard feelings and the urge to shed blood is still there, but the focus today is clearly on recovery and reconciliation.

The historic visit of the Queen to Ireland Tuesday underlined that commitment. The question of how and when, even if, the two Irelands will be reunited is still critically important, but all sides in the dispute have decided that it should not interrupt peaceful relations. A 1998 agreement has also allowed Ulster, or Northern Ireland, a degree of independence that may ultimately lead to unification with the Irish republic to the south.

The new atmosphere is also a reflection of the new global order. Ireland and the U.K. are two members of the European Union with serious economic challenges. Important questions divided them in the past, but the common pursuit of prosperity and stability is itself a great unifying force.

One of the lessons, then, is that sovereign states are becoming more integrated through trade, communication and transportation, a process that is severely impaired when two states aren't on talking terms.

The last time a British monarch visited Ireland was in 1911, but if the intent was to strengthen the bonds of empire, it was a dismal failure. Five years later, southern Ireland was in revolt and it was granted home rule within years.

In a remarkable gesture and one that would have been unthinkable a decade earlier, the Queen placed a wreath in Dublin at the Garden of Remembrance dedicated to "all those who gave their lives in the cause of Irish freedom." It also celebrates at least six major uprisings or rebellions against British rule over the last 200 years.

She made this gesture mindful of the fact that hundreds of British soldiers were maimed or killed fighting Irish insurgents, or terrorists, as they once were called.

Times do change, and recovery and reconciliation are possible.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 18, 2011 A10