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Queen's unwavering faith has helped to bridge the sectarian divide

By Mary Kenny

Published 29/06/2016

Crowds wait for the arrival of the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh in Bushmills Village
Crowds wait for the arrival of the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh in Bushmills Village
The Queen and Duke of Edinburgh during a visit to Bushmills Village
The Queen and Duke of Edinburgh visit the Giant's Causeway on the Co Antrim coast during the second day of her visit to Northern Ireland

At a time when Britain, Ireland and Europe (not to mention the globalised money markets) are in a state of turmoil over Brexit, there is one steady beacon of continuity keeping calm and carrying on: Elizabeth II, in apple-green ensemble, visiting the Giant's Causeway, and in a separate engagement, still quick-witted enough to exchange a jest with certain edge with Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness.

("Yes", she twinkled, "I'm still alive!")

Duty and responsibility have been the guiding lodestar of her long reign, and her long life: but long life also sometimes brings another element to a person's character - a mellowing, a chilling-out, and a sense that when you've put in a solid professional performance over more than 60 years, you can take things a little more lightly.

And in the midst of a troubled world, Elizabeth and Philip seem indeed a serene duo, and at this time a specially welcome presence in Northern Ireland.

While the symbol of the Crown has, understandably, had a particular resonance for those on the unionist side of the traditional divide, the actual living person of the Queen is a much less partisan figure. There is plenty of evidence that as a person, interest in and esteem for the monarch has a much broader purchase in this country, north and south.

It is even plausible to suggest that by her conduct and example Elizabeth has emerged as something of an ecumenical figure between Protestants and Catholics.

This isn't something that she has set out to do, or spoken about. As a young monarch she certainly affirmed her adherence to Protestant Christianity.

And yet the Catholic historian Professor JJ Scarisbrick recently wrote that no English monarch since the Tudors has inspired such trust and fidelity among her Catholic subjects as Queen Elizabeth.

She has bridged that sectarian divide mainly through her steady adherence to her own Christian ideals, seldom failing to mention, during her Christmas broadcasts how central her faith has been to her in sustaining her through difficulties, including those which have touched her family.

Indeed, it has been observed in the Irish Republic that the President of Ireland, Michael D Higgins, mentions neither God nor Jesus Christ in his secular Christmas broadcasts, quite in contrast to the Queen.

So we have an Irish Head of State with a secular cast of mind, and a British Head of State whom Catholics admire for her Christian values.

History certainly produces some piquant ironies.

We live in changing and extraordinary times.

Perhaps we should also be thankful for the blessings and the reconciliations that we have seen, especially coming up to the anguishing centenary of the Somme, in which Irishmen died side by side, and to which the Queen and Prince Philip duly paid tribute.

Not everyone is a monarchist, but a monarch who has done her duty since 1952 represents a deposit of shared memory and lessons learned, sometimes the hard way.

May Elizabeth and Philip return to Irish soil many more times.

Belfast Telegraph

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