I was watching Queen Elizabeth II set foot in Dublin last week from afar. She was the first British monarch to do so in a century—since 1911, when Ireland was still part of the United Kingdom.
According to newspapers there, traffic within 25 miles of the city slowed to a stop. It must have been a powerful sight: the Queen placing a wreath before the “Children of Lir” sculpture, which marks the 50th anniversary of the 1921 truce between Irish and British forces in Ireland’s War of Independence.
The tone changed when nationalists who opposed the Queen’s visit were hoping for a poignant image of their own. In the middle of the ceremony, they released hundreds of black balloons into the air. But their attempts at ruining the Queen’s goodwill visit were thwarted by a strong wind, which blew most of the balloons out of sight.
That protest was proceeded by a more ominous one that morning, when Irish police defused a pipe bomb on a bus just outside Dublin, just hours before the queen arrived.
Despite steps toward reconciliation between the UK and Ireland—the Queen’s visit being the most tangible yet—dissidents there seem bent on keeping the nations’ bloody history alive.
"It's about time to end it," Paisley told me, so slowly and with a much more muted accent than I recall from his roaring speeches in front of roaring crowds.
At 85, he is visibly slower, frail and may have changed his tune. The former leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, once nicknamed “Dr. No,” built a six-decade political career based on rejecting any form of self-rule in Northern Ireland with the Catholic nationalists who seek a united Ireland. But Paisley, also a minister, made headlines again in 2007, when he met with politicians there and agreed to form a local government.
"I've come to a place that I want no violence, I want no ill," Paisley explained to me in a calculated and muddled manner.
If recent events are any indication, it looks like Paisley might get his wish. President Obama was full of praise for Ireland during his visit there today. He remarked that the small country, “punches above its weight," praising its role in international peacekeeping, food security and human rights.
"All that makes an enormous difference around the world,” he said.
Obama showed his support for improving relations between the UK and Ireland from Farmleigh, the official state guesthouse.
The president was also optimistic about Ireland's current economic crisis, which began in 2007 with the collapse of the banking system.
The ensuing government bailout has caused the national debt to skyrocket to more than 100 percent of the economy.
Earlier today, Obama helped plant an Irish oak tree with Irish President Mary McAleese. The tree will soon join those planted by John F. Kennedy and Bill Clinton during earlier presidential visits, at another site.
"Wow. What a sight," Paisely said of Obama's support to prop up Ireland on it's path to economic recovery. "What an opportunity."
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