It was a pleasant 22°c, and sunshine to boot, as I headed off earlier this morning to garner some welcome fresh air and walking exercise, in Dublin’s beautiful Phoenix Park.
People are free to ramble almost everywhere within the park. However, there are nonetheless six popular hard surfaced main walking routes available, which together guide visitors through a mixture of pleasant woodland, glens, open savannah and the more people centric areas such as the Phoenix Park Visitor Centre and Dublin Zoological Gardens. I would name the walking routes as follows:
- Oldtown Wood
- Furry Glen
- Khyber Stream
- Peoples Gardens
- Áras an Uachtaráin
- Ashtown Castle
My choice of route this morning was the Áras an Uachtaráin walk, which takes an hour to complete, at an easy pace. Visitors may join this route anywhere between the Gough Roundabout and the Phoenix Roundabout on Chesterfield Avenue or from any point along the Zoo Road, the North Road or Odd lamp Road. The route guides visitors on a circular journey around the periphery of the Áras an Uachtaráin Demesne, Dublin Zoological Gardens and the Ratra House Demesne.
Áras an Uachtaráin translates from Gaelic as: the Hall of the President. As I walked past the Chesterfield Avenue viewing point, which overlooks the rear gardens of this splendid mansion built in 1751, I was mindful of the duty which our President was engaged in today – 27th June 2012. As patron of Co-operation Ireland together with Queen Elizabeth II, President Higgins was attending an art exhibition (an all Island cultural event) in the Lyric Theatre in south Belfast.
So, what was significant about today? Well, although not part of her Diamond Jubilee celebration schedule, Queen Elizabeth for the first time extended a hand of friendship to the Nationalist Population as exemplified by her hand shake and greeting with North of Irelands Deputy First Minister: Martin McGuiness of Sinn Fein. Yesterday, the Queen also extended a hand of friendship to the Roman Catholic tradition by making what was to be her first ever visit, in the North of Ireland, to a Roman Catholic Church. Taken together, these are powerful signs of just how far forward the process of peace and reconciliation has been moved, between our two Islands.
Some would probably hold the view that a hand shake between Sinn Fein and the British Monarch should have taken place during Queen Elizabeth’s welcome visit to the Republic of Ireland during 2011. However, one could also say: better late than never.
There are more family and friendship links which bind Britain and Ireland together than not. One would be hard put not to find many families throughout the whole of Ireland who’s Fathers, Mothers, Brothers or Sisters did not, as some point over the years, needed to travel to Britain to find work so they could continue to support their families back in Ireland. I am Irish and fiercely proud of that fact, but my nearest European neighbours are English, Scottish and Welsh people with whom we have so much in common. I wish to have as cordial a relationship with my other Island neighbours, as I do with my fellow countrymen.
I continued my walk around by Dublin Zoological Gardens and back along the North Road. When I reached Ratra House (formerly the Secretary’s Lodge) I was reminded of Winston Churchill (Britain’s Prime Minister during WWII) who, as a six year old child, played within these very grounds.
Having turned off Odd Lamp Road back on to Chesterfield Avenue at the Phoenix Roundabout and looked across to the entrance gates to Deerfield House, I was reminded of Arthur Wellesley, a Dublin man, who in 1815 as Duke of Wellington defeated Napoleon Bonaparte at the Battle of Waterloo and who subsequently went on to become Prime Minister of Great Britain.
Conflict, especially between neighbours and particularly where loss of life is involved can be a terrible thing. The bitterness which ensues can scar generations and healing paths can take many years to find. However, peace heroes do emerge. Very brave people, who often times during the height of conflict, take serious risks in the pursuit of the goal of peace. I salute the brave men and women, on all sides, who toiled for so long to bring about peace on this Island. Some are well known, but many I am sure, by their choosing, may remain forever hidden in the background.
It was quite an emotional moment, to hear Queen Elizabeth II in Dublin Castle during her 2011 visit to Ireland, utter those Gaelic words: An Uachtaráin agus a chairde (President and friends). In relationships, such gestures mean a lot. Upon shaking the hand of the Deputy First Minister at departure from the Lyric Theatre today, his Gaelic message to the Queen was: “Slán agus beannacht” which means health and blessings and is a Gaelic way of wishing someone well, who is leaving.
Today was another milestone in the on-going process of nurturing peace and reconciliation on these Islands. Long may it last.
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