Irish President Michael D Higgins has urged respect ahead of bitterness ahead of several key anniversary dates in Britain and Ireland.

The President made his remarks concerning the centenary of the First World War and the 1916 Irish rising on a visit to Scotland.

He spoke on an official trip to the island of Iona to mark the 1,450th anniversary of St Colmcille’s arrival.

The Irish Times reports on his view that Ireland and Britain ‘have the opportunity over the next decade of commemorations to mark the first World War, the Easter Rising and key events surrounding Irish independence in a way that ignores those who want to fuel bitterness’.

He said: “Over the decade, we must remain conscious that the period we are remembering was one of intense conflict, in Ireland and so many other places.

“To fail to recognise this would be to do a disservice to our history. But a pluralist and above all, ethical, remembrance of a period of conflict or division does not, in itself, exacerbate such conflict.

“On the contrary, it can serve to cross boundaries, and bring us together in the present. Some will choose to exploit the anniversaries, to perpetuate a narrow, exclusive interpretation of history and identity.”

The visit to Iona saw President Higgins and his wife Sabina follow in the footsteps of Eamon de Valera who travelled to the island in the Hebrides 50 years ago to mark an earlier anniversary of the Irish saint, one of the most significant figures of the Dark Ages.

President Higgins added: “If Ireland and Britain choose to ignore those wanting an insular, bitter recounting then we can use the experience of remembrance, if approached in an inclusive manner, with an openness to the experiences and views of others, and willingness to interrogate our own preconceptions, to transcend the historical divisions and understand more about our neighbours and in doing so, ourselves.

“Sabina and I are happy to be on this sacred island - a place of learning and of cultural richness, which has always retained its own very special local identity.”

Founded by Colmcille in the 6th Century, the report says Iona remained a significant religious community until the Reformation when it fell into disrepair.

It was brought back to life gradually from the 1930s and now serves as ecumenically-run institution where people learn to work together in harmony.