Analysis: Never forget the past, but we must make sure that we never repeat it

WHEN I played rugby for Ireland, I was the son of an RUC officer. There were people flying the Tricolour and singing The Soldier's Song cheering for me at Landsdowne Road. Yet there were also people flying the Tricolour and singing The Soldier's Song who were trying to kill my father.

The playing career of my Ulster team-mate Nigel Carr ended in 1987 when his car was caught up in an explosion that killed Lord Justice Gibson and his wife, one of Northern Ireland's most senior judges.

Back in those days, I often reflected that there was this violent side to the relationships on this island and between these islands. Yet here I was playing for an Irish rugby team and all I ever experienced was friendship. It was the same when we all played together in a British and Irish Lions side.

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As we look to the future, we should use the simple concept of friendship that I experienced in sport to underpin future relationships between Ireland and Britain.

There has been a lot of hard work to come to the point that we reached in Dublin yesterday. Tribute must be paid to the Irish president, Mary McAleese, in welcoming the Queen, despite so much hurt caused during our shared history. Tribute must also be paid to the Queen, who has had to deal with loss of Lord Louis Mountbatten and many British soldiers and citizens. The sight of the Queen in Dublin should encourage us to let go of the past in the realisation that mistakes were made on all sides.

It is about a maturing respect for the concept that you can be Irish and you can be British and you can be British and you can be Irish.

While in Ireland, the Queen will go to the National War Memorial Gardens commemorating the Irish who died fighting with the British in two world wars. Yet she also went to the Garden of Remembrance, which commemorates those who died in the war against the British.

Learning from the Northern Irish experience, it is incredibly difficult to get away from the hurt that is caused by conflict. But at the opening of the Northern Ireland Parliament at Stormont, her grandfather made a very sensible speech.

It was on 22 June, 1921, that George V said: "I speak from a full heart when I pray that my coming to Ireland may prove to be the first step towards an end of strife amongst her people, whatever their race or creed.

"In that hope, I appeal to all Irish men to pause, to stretch out the hand of forbearance and reconciliation, to forgive and forget, and to join in making for the land which they love a new era of peace, contentment and goodwill."

Since then, sadly, there has been much bloodshed. But there has also been an awful lot of grace shown by people who have suffered a lot of hurt, to free up the space to enable our society to move away from that violent and tragic past.

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Surely the best tribute we can give to those who suffered in the past is to make sure that we never repeat it. That is what yesterday's visit was all about.

• Trevor Ringland, former Ireland rugby internationalist and chairman of the One Small Step campaign that promotes reconciliation.