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The irish settlement is hardly set in stone.

But you would have had to be a pretty cynical fellow indeed not to have been thrilled on Good Friday when word came from Belfast that a deal had been cut. All those years, all those deaths, and now, at last, out of the tunnel of hate and into the daylight of peace.

God bless them all.

If it takes -- and you don't have to be reminded of the sullen murderous thugs still out there; the zealots on both sides, who can be expected to derrick this thing if they possibly can -- if it truly does take, then there is hope almost everywhere.

Dr. Johnson once remarked that the Irish were "a fair race; they never speak well of each other." Or something along those lines; my Johnson is a bit vague these days. But if the feuding Irish can craft a peace, if not an authentic affection across political and religious lines, then suddenly there is new hope for Palestine, for the old Yugoslavia, for Cyprus, and the Koreas and for almost any place in the world where men and women and, oh yes, the children, die because they wear a different color rosette in the symbolic buttonhole.

People more knowledgeable than I have been parceling out the credit. Sen. Mitchell was last week at the White House, being thanked and justifiably so. We're so accustomed to posturing and blundering hot air artists among our fine domestic politicians that it's very near a shock to come across a George Mitchell, a sensible and quiet man, to use an Irish phrase.

But while Mitchell contributed his time and energies and his considerable skills as a negotiator and maker of compromises, the great and genuine risks were taken by the Irish and, yes, the Brits. To lift a line from James Agee, let us now praise famous men:

Tony Blair, who I thought of a year ago as just another slick young man on the make, cleverly positioned and crafted by the public relations apparatus of smooth men in London PR firms, and who today looks like the single most impressive national leader in Europe. You do not earn great popularity in England being nice to the Irish. But Blair has done the right thing, aided and ably so, by his minister for the region, Mo Mowlam.

Bertie Ahern of Dublin, who runs one of the smallest significant countries in the world, and who sturdily pushed ahead on the process of making a peace in the North, while fending off and denouncing the extremists of his own land and his own church.

Gerry Adams and David Trimble. How can you not pair these two, who even now will not shake hands, but who in the early hours of Good Friday put aside hate and came to agreement? Theirs is the tough job now. These are the men who go back to their own communities to convince the rank and file, while defying the crazies, the Protestants of Ian Paisley and the kill-happy men too extreme even for the IRA. God bless Trimble and Adams, these two, perhaps most of all.

And the great John Hume. I'd nearly forgotten Hume, chairman of the main political party, who has never ever given up hope but always spoken out calmly and wisely. And then on the Jim Lehrer show that Friday night, Mark Shields reminded us it was Hume and always Hume who stoked dead embers of hope into something that eventually became a small flame.

Bill Clinton? Of course. He used, and wisely, American muscle, psychological, economic, political, at a crucial moment in the last long night of argument, and helped to sway Adams. Or was it Trimble who gave an inch, for it is in inches that great progress is made? Or was it both?

It was again Mark Shields who mentioned Jimmy Carter, who in his drab presidency spoke out to Ted Kennedy and Tip O'Neill and Hugh Carey and a few other prominent Irish pols to get their fellow Irish Americans to stop sending money to a Northern Ireland aid fund which, in the pubs of New York and Boston and all around this country, waved the shamrock and talked blarney, all the while funneling the bucks directly to men who used the money to buy, from wacko Ghadafi and the North Koreans, the rockets and assault weapons to kill their neighbors across the road in Belfast and over the Irish Sea in Liverpool and London and Birmingham.

My mother's parents were born in Ireland; my father's grandfather, too. I've been to Ireland, both North and South, on holiday and occasionally on assignment. But you don't have to have roots there to have been just plain thrilled by what men and women of good will did there in Belfast on Good Friday at the Stormont.

If the Irish can one day live in peace, anyone can.

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