Stormy seas and a bridge to the future

So after a period of others attempting to interpret the Queen's emotions and intentions, she has now spoken for herself.

From the moment she got to her feet and greeted the guests at the state banquet in Irish, her carefully crafted message appeared likely to satisfy all but a small group of dissenters, some of whom angrily protested outside Dublin Castle's stout stone walls.

She made no direct apology for events during the troubles or the Irish independence struggle, something no doubt deemed inappropriate by the palace.

However she did recognise that the historical record has not been "entirely benign".

The Queen talked about her sadness that "our islands have experienced more than their fair share of heartache, turbulence and loss".

Her comment that "these events have touched us all, many of us personally" served as a reminder that the Royal family have not just been figurheads during the conflict, but victims too, suffering the loss of Lord Mountbatten back in 1979.

Given this context, any critics would need to be especially trenchant to reject the Queen's "sincere thoughts and deep sympathy" or her observation that "with the benefit of historical hindsight we can all see things which we would wish had been done differently or not at all".

For some the past will never be laid to rest, but both the British and Irish governments hope that the majority will share the Queen's sentiments that, as she did at the Garden of Remembrance, we can all "bow to the past, but not be bound by it".

The Queen referred to the complexity of the human relationships between the two islands, but it was President McAleese who evoked that complexity most vividly in an often humorous speech.

The president alluded, perhaps predictably, to W.B. Yeats and George Bernard Shaw.

But she also worked in more modern cultural links, like Father Ted and premiership soccer.

She got away with a jocular jibe at the expense of her guests about Ireland's recent victories at rugby and cricket.

As the guests filed in to the banquet the president seemed to spend an extended time giving the Queen the benefit of a pen portrait of Fr Alex Reid, the Redemptorist priest who devoted decades to bringing republicans in from the cold.

In their speeches both the president and Queen paid tribute to the peacemakers who, in Mary McAleese's words "rejected the perennial culture of conflict and compromised enough to let a new future in".

That's the future both London and Dublin want to concentrate on - improving economic and cultural relations, rather than dwelling on the security agenda of past decades.

Or as President McAleese put it rather more lyrically, building "a solid and enduring bridge of friendship between us" and crossing the stormy sea "to a new, a happier future".

As I listened to the speeches from our commentary position inside Dublin Castle, I could hear in the distance the sound of the odd firecracker from the small protest outside.

An echo of the past which both Britain and Ireland are leaving behind?

Or a reminder that there will always be an edge to the islands' close yet complex relationship?

Two women heads of state dominated the occasion.

But a fair amount of newsprint will also be devoted to another woman, who took her seat at the banquet decked out in a green evening gown.

Iris Robinson is back.

It doesn't seem so long ago that the first minister was attending the Royal wedding, and telling us he could not bring his wife.

She was on the road to recovery, but still not well enough to attend such an occasion.

But then came Peter Robinson's resounding election victory, followed by a series of interviews in which the first minister indicated he hoped to have his wife back by his side in public soon.

In the event the Robinson family have been shrewd, choosing an occasion of such magnitude that the former MP's appearance, whilst a talking point, will not dominate commentary on the proceedings.

To borrow a phrase from Mary McAleese, the Robinsons have crossed their own "stormy sea", and now appear hopeful they too can move forwards into a happier future.