Speech by Bertie Ahern at the Joint Official Opening of the Battle of the Boyne Site, (Tuesday 6 May 2008)
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Speech by Bertie Ahern, then Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister), at the Joint Official Opening of the Battle of the Boyne Site with Ian Paisley, then First Minister of Northern Ireland, (Tuesday 6 May 2008)
"Once again, I am delighted to welcome the First Minister and Baroness Paisley to the site of the Battle of the Boyne.
I have often heard it said that it is not a good idea to revisit the scene of old battles, but I think that on this occasion, we can consider it to be a good thing.
Whatever about 1690, I certainly enjoyed 2007!
To those of you who have travelled here today from Northern Ireland, and especially those of you who come from the Protestant, Unionist and Loyalist tradition, let me say:
You are very welcome.
For far too long, many people from Northern Ireland feared to travel the South.
I am glad to say those days are over and I look forward to an ever-increasing interaction between all of the people of this island in the future.
I hope you will return many times to enjoy these facilities and to visit this historic place that I know means so much to you.
It is just short of a year since I first had the honour of welcoming Dr. and Baroness Paisley to this historic site.
That extremely amicable occasion is one that I will always recall fondly.
It marked a major step forward for all of the people of this island.
Following on from that first visit, Dr. Paisley and myself undertook to come back to perform the official opening of the site.
As soon as I had made my decision to step down as Taoiseach,
I made it a personal priority to keep that engagement before I left office.
I know many people were surprised by my announcement – perhaps none more so than the staff of the Office of Public Works who suddenly had a new deadline! I congratulate them on their magnificent efforts.
The site has been developed in a fashion that fully reflects its importance as a place of history for all of the traditions on this island.
The facilities here have been developed to the highest standard.
The visitor centre in Oldbridge House with its depictions of the historic battle, its audio visual presentations, its historical exhibits and its outdoor displays will entertain and inform all who come here.
The conservation work carried out has secured over 500 acres of beautiful countryside for the enjoyment of future generations.
The completion of the project is a welcome and timely reflection of how far we have come in working together on this island for a better future.
I want to thank all of the staff of the Office of Public Works, including Minister Noel Ahern, Chairman Sean Benton and Eugene Keane, for the magnificent work they have done.
This is also a fitting occasion for me to thank all of those public servants who have done so much to help improve life on this island and to support me and the Government during my time in office.
I thank you all for all of your hard work.
Ladies and Gentlemen, the fact that we have come together here today shows us once again that our history need not divide us.
In recent years, many of us from the nationalist tradition have come to a greater appreciation of the history, traditions and identity of those of you from the unionist tradition with whom we share this island.
We have come to understand the pride you take in your history and to recognise that your history is our history too.
I hope that people will travel from all over this island, the South as well as the North, to visit this centre and to develop the greater mutual understanding that is essential to peace and reconciliation.
We need - all of us - to understand our shared history if we are to build a shared future.
The principles and ideals that we hold dear are the same - liberty and equality, democracy and peace.
If we hold fast to those shared ideals, our children will have an inheritance to treasure.
First Minister, it occurs to me that you and I have spent a lot of time meeting by water.
We have met together by the Lagan and by the Liffey, by the Thames and by the Boyne.
We spent a few days together in the east of Scotland, overlooking Saint Andrews Bay and the North Sea.
Most recently, we met by the River Maine in the beautiful County Antrim countryside, on an occasion I remember with particular fondness.
Some of those meetings saw agreement, others disagreement.
Some have been labelled historic.
Indeed, in many ways, each step along the way to peace was historic.
But it is our meeting here on the green grassy slopes of the Boyne last year that will always be remembered.
It was an occasion of enormous historical resonance and significance.
It marked the end of centuries of mistrust and division.
It marked the beginning of what I firmly believe will be a new era of tolerance, of respect and of friendship.
It was a true turning point.
First Minister, last week I had the great honour and privilege to address the United States Congress and to inform that great democratic assembly that Ireland is at peace.
I said that in history, in politics and in life, there are no ends, only new beginnings.
You and I will shortly be embarking on new beginnings in our own lives.
As we do so, I would like to recognise the distinguished manner in which you have discharged his duties of the office of First Minister.
I would like to commend you for the leadership you showed in helping bring about that famous day in May last year when the democratic institutions were restored.
I would like to thank you for helping to lay the foundations for a peaceful and prosperous future in Northern Ireland.
Above all, I would like to thank you for your courtesy to me and for your friendship.
Ladies and Gentlemen, as we stand here on this historic spot, perhaps we should pause and reflect on what is past and what is yet to be.
The past will remain important to us all.
We cannot change what has gone before.
We should not and must not forget our history.
But as we gather on this famous battlefield, it is not history that concerns us now.
It is the future.
In the future, let us respect each other and our different identities.
In the future, let us value each other and our rich traditions.
In the future, let us understand each other and our shared history.
Let us work together for all of the people of this island.
Let us be reconciled with each other.
Let us be friends.
Let us live in peace."
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