Speech by Bertie Ahern at the site of the Battle of the Boyne, (11 May 2007)
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Speech by Bertie Ahern, then Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister), at the site of the Battle of the Boyne, (11 May 2007)
"I want to warmly welcome you all to the site of the Battle of the Boyne today.
I extend a special welcome to the First Minister, Dr Ian Paisley, and Baroness Eileen and to all who have travelled from Northern Ireland to be here with us.
When we met at Farmleigh last month, Dr Paisley accepted my invitation to come here today.
He said that he was not coming to re-fight the battle.
I must admit that when he arrived this morning bearing a cavalry carbine, I had some brief doubts!
This is, of course, a special place for the Protestant, Unionist and Loyalist people of this island.
The Government was deeply conscious of this when we acquired the site in 2000. Since then, we have launched a development programme which will see the completion of new visitor facilities next year and which will secure over 500 acres of beautiful countryside for future generations to enjoy.
The importance of this site extends far beyond its significance for one tradition alone.
Our history is complex. So was the battle fought on this ground.
Catholics and Protestants fought on both sides. Though the battle is remembered as a defining moment in our own history, it was also part of a greater European conflict. People from many European states were present at the battle and I am delighted that we have Ambassadors from those countries here with us today as well.
The consequences of that period in our history are still the subject of political and historical debate.
Among other things, it was a period that saw the beginning of a long history of parliamentary democracy in these islands.
For Ireland, that too provided a mixed legacy over the centuries.
But earlier this week, it was the power of democracy that provided the means for Dr Paisley and his colleagues in the Northern Ireland Executive to take a historic step towards shaping a better future.
As we move away from our troubled past on this island, we can look around the world and see those places that do not have the freedom, peace and prosperity that we have.
Our democracy and our liberties are precious gifts and a heritage we should not - and do not - take lightly.
As we work to build a shared future, we are all coming to acknowledge that we have a shared and complex past. It is important for us all that we acknowledge and celebrate that history in all its complexity.
We owe it to the generations that preceded us but, most of all, we owe it to those who will follow.
Last year, we marked the 90th anniversary of the Easter Rising and the 90th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme. This year sees the 400th anniversary of the Flight of the Earls and the beginning of the Plantation of Ulster.
All of these dates and anniversaries have different meanings and evoke different emotions for those of us who are gathered here today.
It will take time and hard work to heal all the wounds of those times and of our more recent tragic history.
But we have made a fantastic start in recent times.
The events of these past few weeks bring forth the same shared feelings of hope and optimism in all of the people of this island and, indeed, across the world.
Today is a further demonstration of how far we have come.
We can now celebrate our diversity as well as what we have in common. We can learn from the past so that the next generation more clearly understands the possibilities of the future.
Last October, as we concluded the St Andrews Agreement, I presented Dr Paisley with a bowl, carved from the ancient walnut tree which stood at this site for three hundred years and which still lies on the meadow in front of Oldbridge House.
I would like to invite him shortly to join me in symbolically marking a new phase in our relations by planting a sapling, nurtured from that Walnut tree.
We will do so in a spirit of friendship and of mutual respect.
We cannot change what went before, on this ground or across these islands.
But history can take many turns.
Today, in this special place from our history, is another good day."
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