On reflection, perhaps I’ve been a little too quick to discount the historical significance of the Queen’s visit to Ireland this week. Like so much else, it’s a question of perspective. If you’re 80 years old and a citizen of the Irish Republic, perhaps the sight of the Irish President greeting and welcoming the British monarch on equal terms would seem quietly moving and even a cause of some pride. I might think that this was what it was all about and I might see the visit as another confirmation that the Irish state has taken its rightful place in the community of nations. That’s been true for many years, but this is still some hefty symbol.
Of course, I might also reflect that the economic travails of recent years have undermined that tenaciously-held view of a narrowly-defined idea of national sovereignty and this might occasion fresh pangs of regret and even, perhaps, a little bitterness too. Such are the swings and roundabouts of independence.
Yet in another sense, the visit is an example of what Alex Salmond means when he talks of the “social union” between Scotland and England that would survive even if Scotland were to sail off to independence. Because there is a social union across the Irish Sea too that joins Ireland with England as well as another reaching from Scotland to Ireland. (This latter is not just a matter of Ulster, though that’s there too and often complicates the picture).
Anyone visiting Dublin from Edinburgh or Glasgow will be struck by the familiarity of the scene just as surely as they may notice the surface differences amid all the trappings of Irish independence. Like the Scottish cities, Dublin looks to London too even as, especially since it joined the European Union, Irish eyes have been raised above and beyond the boat and road to London.