Belfast Telegraph

Monday 22 September 2014

My regal salute to these strong and equal women

Equal Partnership: President McAleese and the Queen set a new course for Anglo-Irish relations

Y' turn your back for a second and when you look round, everything's different! Before I went away last week, the Queen of England spoke English, planking was something you put on the floor and the DUP was definitely going to build a radiotherapy centre at Altnagelvin.

I see no news for seven days and in that time, the world's turned upside down. Now the Queen is speaking Irish, planking is a daft pastime that can go disastrously wrong and the DUP aren't sure what they're going to do up in Derry. (Now that the head of the British establishment is talking 'as Gaeilge', I think we can maybe dispense with the whole Londonderry/Derry tradition, eh?)

Maybe I should go away more often and we might even end up with something crazier, like, oh, I don't know, off the top of m'head, Gerry Adams praising the Queen, Prince Philip not uttering a single Philism and DFS selling furniture at full price ... Oh, we did! Well, two out of three ain't bad.

What a week of confounding images, words and events. The snob in me cringed a bit when I saw the line up of entertainers for the concert in Dublin. Westlife and Mary Byrne - lovely people I'm sure, but I would've expected something a little more highbrow when it's the head of a foreign state being entertained. But what do I know? Perhaps it's this great levelling of culture that's made the events of this past week possible.

Mary Byrne said she wouldn't be much of royalist herself but she'd watched the wedding and she loved William.

That says a lot about how, for many, the big political, historical and cultural certainties have been shaken in this island. It's not as easy to hate The Establishment when its representative is a good-looking young man who's touted in all the glossy mags as a celeb. History? Whatever ...

Even the President, Mary McAleese, referred to Father Ted and the Premiership. When she did, part of me applauded her confidence but another small part of me regretted the chumminess of it all. I know she also quoted Yeats and referred to George Bernard Shaw, so it wasn't a complete lowest common denominator affair, but still.

Maybe the Queen might've apologised for what the Brits have done here if Mary McAleese had apologised for Jedward. Or is that blurring the line between serious and frivolous just a bit too much? If so, I apologise.

Overall, it seems that all the women played a blinder - Elizabeth R, Mary McA, Mary B and Iris R. Another Mary, Mary Robinson, started a quiet revolution when she made her famous Mna na hEireann/Women of Ireland speech many years ago. It was lovely to see the smiles and solemnity of the two heads of state last week, comfortable in their colourful clothes, able to ride the twin horses of femininity and power.

I was reminded of the meeting between Queen Elizabeth I and Grace O'Malley, the Pirate Queen, four centuries ago. Two strong women who faced each other as equals. That meeting led to the setting aside of some old animosities. In this period, rich with symbolism and resonating with echoes of history, it seems the two strong women of today have achieved something similar in the 21st century. So here's to you Mrs Robinson (Mary) and Mrs McAleese and Mrs Windsor.

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