AN elderly woman with a string of titles bowed her head in respect to the Irish who died fighting her troops, and venom went out of feeling towards Queen Elizabeth II.
Not for everyone, but for many northern nationalists and a fair share of republicans also.
Being anti-monarchy is something else entirely. Reams of over-statement and airtime-filling in the next few days will test goodwill from unlikely sources, as will rhetoric from unionists with their own reservations about royalty.
A small woman beside the much taller President McAleese in the Garden of Remembrance did her bit for peace between nations. Or, as a statement in her name put it, she hoped the four-day visit 11 years ago to the Republic showed ‘the importance of being able to bow to the past and not be bound by it’.
By 1997 ‘ElizaBrit’ from anti-Sinn Féiners Éirígí already had an old-fashioned ring to it. When Britain’s queen threw in her lot with the peace process, with the few words in Irish (and the toast Seamus Heaney joined in his own gracious way), she changed her own image too.
She won more respect this week from the last evidence of duty done, shaking hands with new prime minister Liz Truss and saying goodbye to Boris Johnson within days of her death.
Hands clasped on her stick, one hand badly bruised presumably from a drip removed for the occasion, she faced a camera with a more than adequate smile.
A fire crackled behind her under the motto ‘Nemo me impune lacessit’ – ‘No one provokes me with impunity.’ The motto of the House of Stuart, the internet says, and of Scotland. Because Truss and Johnson had to go to Balmoral, the royals’ main Scottish palace.
As homely as royals get, this picture, the sight of a sturdy woman in her last days won’t have lessened any Scots nationalist scorn for today’s royalty or warm any hearts to the new king.
There was another Latin tag on the BBC’s portrait to kick off their formal farewell. Dieu et mon droit. God and my right. This one is apparently the motto of ‘the monarch of the United Kingdom outside Scotland'.
Imagine this long a life lived by mottos; huge wealth and privilege, no room for free will and spontaneity.
‘To get up and do her duty, shaking the hands of god knows what only a couple of days ago?’ said a Dubliner last night who watched the 2011 visit with a lot more cynicism. ‘Not a bad 'oul one, considering all.’
After the Martin McGuinness handshake with both queen and Prince Philip at the Lyric, dissidents of all kinds could bad-mouth the IRA leader turned-Stormont power-sharer, as well as the royals, all they liked, rubbishing the process that produced the Good Friday Agreement in the bygoing.
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Northern Ireland unionists have been tested themselves in the post-GFA era. There have been echoes of the Reverend Ian Paisley objecting to the queen’s praise for the Agreement.
The old rabble-rouser gave notice in Westminster, and not for the first time, that his and unionism’s loyalty was to the queen ‘being Protestant’. Modern unionists know, though they cannot admit it, that the monarchy is no more to be depended upon than British governments.
What this public figure, entirely duty-moulded, in truth thought of anyone else or of the politics of which she was a figurehead, who knows.
She was briefed that McGuinness should be acknowledged, and she did her duty with one of her warmest smiles.
Perhaps she had a sense of mischief, as well as of history.