UNCOMFORTABLE CONVERSATIONS; Queen Elizabeth II and Martin McGuinness

QE2 and MM

Last week I was at the launch of Uncomfortable Conversations, a collection of contributions under that title in the Sinn Fein newspaper An Phoblacht. As former President of the Methodist Church, Heather Morris, pointed out in her speech at the launch, “One of the reasons I welcome this book is that it is not a theoretical piece on the need for uncomfortable conversations, or even solely a call for participation in those conversations – it is a record of those conversations. The contributions are part of a real process.” Whatever, some might think of Sinn Fein or their agenda it has to be good that they are giving the forum for these discussions. 

Martin McGuinness was the final speaker and he spoke of uncomfortable conversations that he had been having for forty years, conversations with "mysterious" people, Church leaders, Government Officials, other Northern Ireland politicians and even within his own party and community. he ended with two relationships that he said we could never have imagined him having twenty years ago; Rev Dr Ian Paisley and Queen Elizabeth II. 

He spoke fondly of both, sharing how Paisley had invited him round to see him just weeks before he had died. McGuinness then pointed out that Queen Elizabeth’s visit to Dublin and Cork; her honouring of the Irish language at the mansion House; laying her wreath in the Garden Of Remembrance dedicated to the memory of "all those who gave their lives in the cause of Irish Freedom"; never mind their famous handshake, were her initiative. This was her contribution to uncomfortable conversations. She after all lost her cousin Lord Mountbatten in the conflict too. 

I have found myself, in recent days, in many situations of peacemaking that feel a little messy. These are not just uncomfortable conversations but disconcerting relationships. Yet, leaders have gone before us. Reconciliation will have to journey through such difficult terrain, from the violence of our past to the hoped for peace of a future day. 

After I came home I remembered this poem I had written last summer. It was about the Queen’s handshake with Martin McGuinness and her actions in Dublin and her example in uncomfortable conversations. 


Their hands shook

History felt the tremors

Forgetting deep hurt

Where everyone remembers

And did memory stab

That boat on the ocean

As her courage broke

Through her heart’s emotion 


Their eyes connect

Like wires to detonate

Blow up the past

Raining fragments of hate

Did he see the loss

In her smiling face

And feel the forgiveness

Majesty of her grace


She spoke their language

She bowed her head

Bent down on her knee

To honour their dead

She marched right through

The ancient palisades

Left the traditional walk

To lead a brand new parade.


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