With people around the globe celebrating World Handshake Day on Thursday 21 June past (as you can see here, wasn't it ironic that the following day Gerry Adams, the president of the all-Ireland party Sinn Fein, came out to announce to the world that Martin McGuinness, Northern Ireland's deputy First Minister, Sinn Fein chief and former IRA commander, would be extending a hand to the Queen during her upcoming Jubilee visit to the occupied six counties/the North/Northern Ireland (depending on what political shoes you sport).
Steeping myself in the history of the handshake as I did last Thursday I found it remarkable - the raw power and symbolism of the handshake. Across cultures, religions, languages and time periods the handshake holds a profound resonance that chimes with people of all creeds; and throughout the annals of history there have been a great many monumental handshakes whose coming together has sent sound waves around the world for all those at present and future to see. Countless landmark handshakes have been captured not only in the lens of cameras but also captured in the minds of a great many, embedding a message of togetherness and mutual respect in the collective memory of society.
From the not so endearing meeting between German Chancellor Adolf Hitler and British PM Neville Chamberlain, to the meeting of Winston Churchill and Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, to the coming together of Israel's Yitzhak Rabin and the Palestinian Yasser Arafat: all were milestone moments in the history of man, and all were sealed with a handshake.
Closer to home on the island of Ireland, the handshake has been central to the process of healing, reconciliation and the building of bridges between divided communities and political parties. The 1990s and noughties which witnessed major steps towards peace and shared institutions in Ireland and Northern Ireland were all endorsed by the shaking of hands - Adams and Clinton, the Sinn Fein leadership and Blair, Mark Durkan (leader of the nationalist SDLP) and the Queen, and Martin McGuinness and the First Minister, Peter Robinson. All the above meeting of hands were subtle but all signalled a significant shift in mindset and all continue to hold a very real and special place in history's scrap book.
After a 30 year internecine conflict that killed over 3500 and left a legacy that will linger long into the future many bridges have nonetheless been crossed and hand shaking dilemmas solved since the Northern Ireland peace process first took root in 1998. The peace process has undoubtedly proved a success in many ways, however it has not reached maturity and it may well turn out to be an ever lasting work in progress - a problem managed and not solved - but last Friday's solution to the latest hand shake dilemma has laid the path for Wednesday 27 June 2012 to behold to the world a monumental handshake between Martin McGuinness and the Queen. A watershed event that will unequivocally change minds and lay an indelible landmark on Northern Ireland's long and winding avenue that has been the peace process.
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