Last Tuesday, after a night of bonfires and a morning of following District Lodge Number 6 around Belfast to the accompaniment to
hymn tunes The Sash, I headed down to Dublin with friends for a different Twelfth celebration.
For the last fourteen years, President McAleese has hosted a garden party on the 12 July in the grounds of Áras an Uachtaráin, her Phoenix Park residence. In this final garden party of her presidency, she explained that she had
"inaugurated an annual Garden party on July 12th to mark that famous battle in 1690 which set the children of Williamite and Jacobite on a four hundred year journey into enmity but also to mark the start of our mutual journey out of enmity and into friendship."
The President described the 400 guests as "sons and daughters of all the politics, faiths and perspectives which live on this island". Over the course of her presidency the "temper and structure of cross-border relations has changed dramatically". Referring to the recent visit by the British monarch, President McAleese described it as
"a very clear manifestation of the new relationship of neighbourliness and mutual respect that now prevails on this island and between these islands, a relationship underpinned by the clearly expressed will of the vast majority of the people".
She later remarked:
"The destination of full reconciliation and the disappearance of sectarianism is still some distance ahead of us but today, when the old culture of hatred and violence rears its head, as it does still from time to time, it is met with a robust, cross-community solidarity that shows just how much has changed and how much determination there is that this process of change will continue."
There's an orchard on the estate from which a very fine organic apple juice is made. Over on Slugger I've posted about the Northern Ireland bees that are being exported to Áras an Uachtaráin this week to start making honey for the next president.
Having scoffed nibbles under the bright afternoon sun - undoubtedly a bit posher than the kind of fare the Orange (wo)men and their supporters were eating in the fields across the North - we sat down in the marquee and listened to the RTÉ Symphony Orchestra (conducted by the animated Gearóid Grant) perform a short programme.
Being the 12 July, there was no getting away from the Sash! After Uilleann piper and composer Liam O'Flynn led a rendition of An Droichead (The Bridge, composed for the President's inauguration back in 1997), the orchestra was joined by soloists from the Cross Border Orchestra to play a medley of Irish tunes - Crossing Bridges - that prominently featured a certain ballad commemorating the victory of King William III. A blatter of a Lambeg Drum was all it needed to top it off!
Music - as well as people - from different traditions sitting at ease beside each other, while the Irish Tricolour flew overhead. No one seemed to need to be offended. All very relaxed. A beautiful afternoon.