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Sinn Fein leader Martin McGuinness will meet Queen Elizabeth next week Photo by: Google Images

The last great symbolic moment as Queen Elizabeth meets Martin McGuinness

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Sinn Fein leader Martin McGuinness will meet Queen Elizabeth next week Photo by: Google Images

The picture of Sinn Fein leader and Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness shaking hands with Queen Elizabeth displays the last great symbolic act of the peace process.

The fact that Democratic Unionist leader Peter Robinson made the introductions further accentuated the historic handshake.

That the queen wore green further accentuated the importance of the moment. It was an extraordinary moment in the history of Ireland and Britain in recent times.

There have been so many, Queen Elizabeth at the Garden of Remembrance in Dublin; US President Bill Clinton on the Falls Road and Shankill Road; Ian Paisley pictured with Martin McGuinness as he agreed to share power.

Memories and peace processes are made of such Kodak moments. The pictures tell a thousand words and enter the popular imagination as well as the history books.

The symbolic value of the McGuinness/Queen Elizabeth handshake will occupy a major place in that pantheon of unique moments.

Northern Ireland was always as much about symbols as it was about realities. The neighborhoods in Belfast, Derry and elsewhere were designated by flags of Britain or the Irish Republic.

Even the curbstones, painted in red white and blue or green and orange marked territories like two rutting tribes.

Those who failed to appreciate the power of symbols in Northern Ireland failed to understand the very engine of daily life there.

You were what your symbols said you were, and you were intensely proud of them.

The clashes were usually over those symbols, a Loyalist march through a nationalist neighborhood, a tricolor flying where unionists demanded it had no right to do so.

Thus the queen meeting McGuinness is far beyond the physical act.

Nothing speaks to the Protestant identity in Northern Ireland like the Queen and all she represents. At any gathering of the tribe her picture is omnipresent and sacrosanct.

In the same way, Martin McGuinness has embodied so much of the Sinn Fein rise throughout The Troubles.

Once a leading IRA member, his part from revolutionary to politician has charted the march of Irish nationalism as it cast off its second class status in Northern Ireland and became a powerful and soon to be equal force.

No one embodies that struggle like Martin McGuinness and his colleague Gerry Adams, so it is fitting that he was  be the standard bearer.

What they say and what they do, the queen and the Republican is far less important than the  fact that they are both there together.

In the history of the fight for Irish self-determination there is perhaps no other moment like it, a singular moment when a Republican meets a queen, not in any inferior posture but rather the equal.

This queen partook in one of the last great acts of her long reign we suspect. She has given every indication that she treasures this opportunity to make history, the naysayers aside.

It is a credit to both sides that this amazing moment has passed and that future generations will look back and see yet another moment when the British and Irish tribes proclaimed loudly yes we can actually get
along.

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