Royal encounters

I have a confession to make. I was invited to Thursday’s big event in Dublin’s National Convention Centre, at which the visiting British Queen was treated to some Irish music and dance and met a few thousand people. And I must also confess that I came over specially from Scotland in order to attend. And, dare I say this, I am very glad I did so.

As some have observed, those commenting on this state visit by Elizabeth II have made good use of the dictionary of clichés. It’s been all about the ‘maturing’ of Ireland as a self-confident nation, about overcoming history, about looking to the future, about Irish hospitality (and indeed Irish wit), about being present at a turning point in history. But then again, sometimes the clichés are right.

I am, as some readers here will know, not a monarchist. I believe in the compelling political narrative of a republic. And yet, this week I was also just a little bit carried away in the symbolic power of the carefully constructed political statements presented as simple actions (and occasionally as words). It was an extraordinarily well planned and executed visit, with perhaps only the decision to keep the Dublin crowds at bay now turning out to have been a mistake – but one for which Cork atoned. The Queen conducted herself with skill and poise, and there developed between her and the country an easy rapport the idea of which would have seemed ludicrous just a couple of years ago. It was summed up rather well by a person who tweeted: ‘I’ve just seen the Queen drive past. She waved at me. I’ve got kind of used to having her around.’ The very small number of protesters just seemed bizarre in their actions, and were quickly ignored. By the time the tour was nearing the end even Sinn Féin had climbed on to the royal visit bandwagon.

Sometimes political change is born out of sentimental iconic moments, and this was one such occasion. The bowed head in the Garden of Remembrance, the cúpla focal (couple of words in Irish), the visit to Croke Park – all moments of high symbolism skillfully played out. As some commentators have observed, over the four days the Irish seemed to develop something very like real affection for the British monarch, and she appeared to reciprocate. As is the national character, it was expressed in sometimes irreverent ways, but that seemed to make it all more real, and as far as one can tell Elizabeth genuinely enjoyed it all. As I met her yesterday, some of those with me offered her good-natured quips, and she took it all in evident good humour.

We shouldn’t over-state the significance of all this; but then again, we should recognise that there was something important happening in Ireland this week. Something good.

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6 Comments on “Royal encounters”

  1. Vincent Says:

    I was relieved when she took off safely.

    Now, ‘maturing’ is it. Hmmm, the last time one of her family came over the great and good stuck on a feed-bag and between them and the press wrote cheques that were cashed on the clay before Ypres and in the valley of the Somme. That same visit, small tenants and farmworkers were forced to untackle the six by their betters and were put to the shafts themselves.
    Listening to the mawkish rubbish being spouted by every hack and hackette. By the fake surprise exhibited by the politicians when every action was arranged beforehand, with the possible exception of the cúpla focal. And the ludicrous spectacle of half a dozen people watching DVD’s in a windswept field in north Dublin. All made me wish for the days when RTE opened late and closed early.
    And then to Cashel and Fethard. No one in the right of their mind would spend more than five on that rock. And did the NMI break their hearts or what sending one crosier head. Especially since Derrynaflan is four miles up the road. Now there’s an object that she hasn’t anything of the like.
    As to Fethard, the Gardaí stopped movement four days out to anyone wanting to enter the area. Have they forgotten why South Tipperary was the most militarized area in the world until 1925. It’s not that you might lock Fethard down to keep people out but to keep them in.
    With Cork, what can you expect.
    Now don’t get me wrong, I was delighted she came over to call. It was foolish that it took as long as it did. And my issue is not with the UK side of the trip. But as I said, I was relieved when that aircraft sank it’s wheels into it’s belly and protection passed over to the RAF.
    Mind you, it’s handy they arranged all the visits at the one time. It saves a fortune in paint.

  2. Al Says:

    I have to agree with the understandable parts of what Vincent wrote.
    its great that she came and we welcomed, but this event has gotten an inflated and speculative importance.
    a lot of this is due to the media and those that spin.
    To see the Taoiseach imply the visit has kick started the recovery!!!

  3. Jilly Says:

    Flummery and spectacle, designed to distract the people from asking rational questions about the ways in which a society should be organised, is how monarchy perpetuates itself. No republican should be taken in by it.

  4. kevin denny Says:

    According to the Keeper of the National Conscience & Intellectual-in-Chief this was the week that Anglophobia died. For f**k sake.
    http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/weekend/2011/0521/1224297441289.html


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