Queen Elizabeth II, who last September became the longest-reigning monarch in British history–64 years and counting–turns 90 on 21 April.
“Through seven decades, she has remained gloriously and relentlessly enigmatic in one of her signature pastel outfits and colorful hats,” writes The New York Times. “The queen could be forgiven for showing emotion when she blows out her candles. But it is unlikely.”
I’m a republican more than any fan of the monarchy, British or otherwise. But I’ve admired this queen since her historic 2011 visit to Ireland. So does Father Matt Malone, S.J., editor in chief of America: The National Catholic Review. In his 18 April “Of Many Things” column, he writes:
[S]he was determined to make the trip, motivated in large part by her sense of Christian duty to reconcile the estranged, to be a healer of the breach. “God sent into the world a unique person—neither a philosopher nor a general (important though they are)—but a Saviour, with the power to forgive,” she said in her Christmas broadcast that year. “Forgiveness lies at the heart of the Christian faith. It can heal broken families, it can restore friendships and it can reconcile divided communities. It is in forgiveness that we feel the power of God’s love.”
…the queen’s visit to the republic was not just a moment of reconciliation between two long-estranged peoples, but her personal act of forgiveness. When Lord Louis Mountbatten was killed by agents of the Irish Republican Army in the summer of 1979, the queen suffered the loss of one of the most beloved members of her family … It was a truly extraordinary moment, therefore, when she laid a wreath at a memorial garden in Dublin dedicated to the memory of “all those who gave their lives in the cause of Irish Freedom.” She had somehow found the courage within her to forgive, to rebuild, to begin anew. …
In the course of a century, the editors of this magazine have unashamedly championed the cause of Irish freedom. In doing so, we have had a few unkind words to say about the British and the queen’s predecessors. As we mark the centenary of the Easter Uprising, we celebrate the fulfillment of our forebears’ dreams, but we also repent of what we too have done and failed to do. Yet in repentance there is hope, the very hope we saw during those mid-May days in 2011.
In June 2012, in Belfast, the queen and former IRA commander Martin McGuinness had one of the world’s most celebrated handshakes. Two years later, McGuinness accepted the queen’s invitation to attend a British state banquet at Windsor Castle. By then, many of us had grown used to seeing soaring sounders of swine.
Earlier this year, a 12-year-old schoolboy from Dublin wrote a letter to the queen asking for “the return of the six counties” of Northern Ireland, which were partitioned from the rest of the island in 1921 and today remain part of the United Kingdom. Buckingham Palace politely replied to the boy that Her Majesty does not intervene in such matters. “As a constitutional Sovereign, the Queen acts on the advice of her Ministers and remains strictly non-political at all times.”
And so a birthday bonfire will burn atop Slieve Donard in County Down, as well as the highest peaks of Scotland, Wales and England, in addition to all the other pomp to mark Elizabeth’s 90th. I’ll just add: Sláinte!