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State visit to Ireland

Speech by HM King Harald at the dinner given by President McAleese at the beginning of the state visit to Ireland, september 2006.

President McAleese,
Dr McAleese,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

On behalf of the Queen and myself, I would first of all like to thank you for your kind words of welcome. The Irish are renowned for their hospitality throughout the world, and we feel we are among close friends this evening.

Although the Queen has visited your country before, this is the first official visit by Norway’s Head of State to Ireland. However, as you know — perhaps only too well — it is not the first time Norwegians have landed on your shores. Like our forefathers, the Queen and I arrived in Dublin by ship. I trust, however, you will believe me when I say that this time we come in peace.

But The Viking Age was not only a period of hostilities. It was also a time of extensive trade and friendly exchanges. Some Vikings settled in Ireland, and with time they were absorbed into the local community. Today the Viking age is a shared heritage that unites, rather than divides, our two countries. The city of Dublin itself, and indeed a number of other cities and towns around Ireland that were founded by Vikings, are testimony to that. I am very much looking forward to learning more about this common history when I visit the National Museum of Ireland tomorrow.

Our two countries share many features. We are both Atlantic nations. We are both on the periphery of Europe. And we have both been formed by the role the sea has played in our development.

If managed properly, the sea will provide a sustainable treasure haven for future generations. Sustainable management requires cooperation, and at the conference at the National Maritime College in Cork on Wednesday we will explore joint strategies on how to manage the oceans, our common heritage.

Our two countries have cultures and traditions that date back to times immemorial, but neither gained independence until the early 20th century. This fact may explain why we both attach great importance to multilateral cooperation. Ireland´s and Norway’s commitment to the UN manifests itself in a number of ways — in committing troops to peacekeeping operations, in supporting UN development programmes, and in participating actively in the work of the Security Council of which both countries were members in 2001–2002.

I would like to emphasise that we both share a deep commitment to promoting peace around the world. And because our experiences differ, we have all the more to learn from each other in this area. Norway gained its independence from Sweden without going to war. The result of the efforts to end the violent conflict on this island demonstrates what can be achieved with patience, determination and tolerance.

The endeavours you and your husband have undertaken to build bridges between the two communities on this island are an example for all to follow.

In the early medieval period, Ireland was known as the land of saints and scholars, a country where culture was given pride of place — and not only among the elite. Irish folk culture has survived through generations, and continues to capture the world’s imagination. The spectacular success of Riverdance is a prime example. Irish folk music has a strong standing in Norway, and the increasing contacts between musicians in our two countries in recent years are providing mutual inspiration.

Literature is another field where mutual influence has been strong. I understand that the Norwegian national movement of the late 19th century and the establishment of the Norwegian National Theatre served as inspiration to the Irish national movement and for the establishment of the Abbey Theatre. James Joyce, the giant of 20th century modernism, taught himself Norwegian in order to read Ibsen in the original. This was truly an admirable feat. However, I assure you that it is not necessary in order to appreciate the subtleties of the writer who has been called the father of modern drama.

Tomorrow the Queen will attend the opening of the exhibition “Portraits of Ibsen” at the National Library of Ireland to mark the centenary of his death. This occasion coincides with the centenary of another icon of modern drama, your own Samuel Beckett, and with a major exhibition on another of your Nobel laureates, William Butler Yeats. All of these writers were influenced by Ibsen, and they, in turn, have influenced new generations of writers all over the world.

Both our countries have stepped out of a history of poverty. According to UN statistics, Ireland and Norway rank among the economically most successful countries in the world today. Especially during the past decade, Ireland’s economic development has been impressive. Norway made a similar leap after oil was discovered on the Norwegian continental shelf. Today, oil is our main export to Ireland. Norway is, in fact, the world’s third largest exporter of oil and gas and stands out as a secure and reliable supplier of energy.

It is my hope that this visit will spark an eagerness to learn more about one another and to increase contact and exchanges between our two countries. Increasing numbers of Irish tourists are visiting Norway, and I am particularly pleased that the interest in skiing appears to be on the rise in Ireland. Your country has long been a popular destination for Norwegians. I understand that more than 60 000 are expected to visit Ireland this year, a number that may increase when the Queen and I tell about our visit to your beautiful and friendly country.

I would like to conclude by inviting you to join me in a toast to President Mary McAleese, to Dr Martin McAleese, to the people of Ireland and to the friendship between our two countries.


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