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Will Ireland be won over by the Queen?

Mary Kenny says that Queen Elizabeth II’s historic trip to the Republic of Ireland next week could be her most challenging state visit

By on Thursday, 12 May 2011

The Queen has made 380 state visits over the course of her 59-year reign

The Queen has made 380 state visits over the course of her 59-year reign

As everyone agrees, Queen Elizabeth II has carried out her duties for almost 60 years with an impeccable sense of correctness. Like her father, George VI, she is a constitutional monarch par excellence. If she has had recourse to her constitutional entitlement to counsel or to warn any of the 12 Prime Ministers who have served the United Kingdom we do not know about it.

There must have been moments when she regretted the changes in political direction of this country: the drift away from the Commonwealth and towards the “ever-closer union” with the European Union may, perhaps, have been a cause for royal regret. But no royal opinion has ever been expressed on the matter.
There have been difficult moments in her long reign, and the week of May 17 to May 20 may prove a challenging phase for the Queen. That is the week when she visits the Republic of Ireland, the first British monarch to go to what was once called “southern Ireland” since her grandfather’s state visit to Dublin in July 1911. The Queen has made over 380 state visits during her reign, and to many parts of the globe: but until now the Republic of Ireland has been the one destination which was never included.

It is hardly necessary to repeat the numerous reasons why such a visit could not take place until now: but the partition of Ireland and the “Troubles” in the north certainly played a part. Anglo-Irish relations have been through some tricky times in recent decades, reaching a nadir in the 1970s and 80s. In 1977, when Elizabeth made a formal visit to Belfast, she was hanged in effigy in the Falls Road. In 1979, her uncle by marriage, Lord Mountbatten, was murdered just off the Sligo coast. In response, Irish republicans would cite many distressing events – such as Bloody Sunday in 1972 – when Crown troops opened fire on unarmed citizens. And there’s another point: in Ireland, the British Army was historically referred to as “Crown forces” – the notorious Black and Tans being an example – so that “the Crown” itself was linked with the conduct of some of its less worthy soldiery.

But now the formal visit to the Irish Republic has been arranged: the Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, has said it will be a “healing” process in Anglo-Irish history, and Prime Minister David Cameron clearly agrees – he personally apologised for Bloody Sunday as part of the visit’s preparation. The visit has been arranged to seal the Good Friday Agreement of 1998, which was itself endorsed by referendums north and south, putting an end, in theory, to any armed conflict in British-Irish relations.

Yet this forthcoming state visit is awaited with some apprehension. Opinion polls tell us that 81 per cent of people in Ireland welcome the Queen (who will be accompanied by Prince Philip, who has visited Dublin before, informally). But 19 per cent say they do not, and that may include some very dangerous people with associations to the Continuity IRA, who so recently murdered the Catholic police officer Ronan Kerr.

The itinerary planned for this royal visit is both imaginative and risky. She will arrive at the military airport at Baldonnell, known as Casement Airport, called after Roger Casement who was, for Britain, a traitor, and for Ireland a patriot. Her first public event will be to lay a wreath at the Garden of Remembrance in Dublin’s Parnell Square, which was opened in 1966 to commemorate the 1916 Easter Rising, and indeed, the generations of Irish nationalists who had died for Ireland, always in opposition to the Crown.

She will also go to Croke Park, where, again, Crown troops opened fire on unarmed civilians in 1920 and the event was dubbed the original Bloody Sunday. This is where the Queen’s stoic sense of duty will surely be apparent. It cannot be easy for her to do the bidding of the politicians and pay tribute, in these places, to the Fenian dead. But she will carry it out as her constitutional duty, because the elected politicians have decided that this is all part of the healing process in Anglo-Irish affairs. (You might think that Irish nationalists would be gracefully pleased that the embodiment of the Crown is appearing at the Garden of Remembrance, but some plan to demonstrate against it, on the rather thin grounds that HM is Colonel-in-Chief of the British forces.)

She will also visit the National War Memorial Gardens at Islandbridge in Dublin, where thousands of Irishmen who fell in the First World War are remembered. Most of these 50,000 were Irish Catholics, but their memory has been, until recently, somewhat marginalised by the official history of the Irish state.
We do not know the Queen’s personal feelings, and yet it is considered significant that she has agreed to an unusually long state visit of four days. She could have just visited Dublin – the first reports were that she would be confined to Dublin – where security can be best arranged. She certainly will see much of Dublin, including Trinity College, Guinness’s Storehouse, Dublin Castle and Áras an Uachtaráin, the presidential residence which was once the Vice-Regal Lodge, in Phoenix Park. But she will also see the historic Rock of Cashel in Co Tipperary and Cork City, too. And perhaps for her, personally, the most pleasurable part of all: a visit to the National Stud in Co Kildare where she will get to see some fabulous horses.

Attitudes to the coming visit, as expressed in the public realm in Ireland, have been on a wide spectrum of ambivalence. Sinn Féin has said they will not be “confrontational” – they have, after all, now gone legitimate – in any opposition to the event. But who knows what could occur at the margins, or among a small minority of anti-monarchist fanatics.

There is also a discernible anxiety among Irish nationalists as to how they ought to behave towards a British monarch. Many letters to the Dublin newspapers have expressed this obsessive fear of “fawning”. There are voices denouncing the practice of curtsying, unaware that only subjects curtsey, and even then it is no longer expected as routine.

Yet the British Ambassador, Julian King, has also received hundreds of letters from people all over Ireland saying how welcome the Queen would be in their locality. Many small towns positively yearn for a royal visit, since it is a matchless imprimatur for tourist connections.

If history is a guide, I think we may hope that it will turn out successfully. Whatever opposition was expressed to British monarchs visiting Ireland in the past usually melted away once the visit actually happened: there is an impulse to welcome – the céad míle fáilte – in Irish tradition, and it nearly always emerges spontaneously.

It will be a historic, sometimes controversial and certainly extremely interesting event. Whatever else, it will be different from the other 380 state visits Queen Elizabeth has made in the course of her reign, and that, in itself, may carry its own rewards.

Mary Kenny is the author of Crown and Shamrock: Love and hate between Ireland and the British monarchy (New Island Books,

  • Andrea Annibale

    Being a Roman Catholic myself, there are a few things that I know about England and the UK.
    Please edit
    language mistakes, I am writing from Turin, Italy.

    First, I
    know that Cambridge is a very nice city. As an visiting scholar about 20 years
    ago I was having a dinner with Professor Tony Weir (hope the name is spelled
    correctly; he was teaching Torts while I was studying English historical Land
    Law) and many other Professors at the Trinity College Hall.

    Second, I
    know that London is the capital.

    Third, I
    know that cats and dogs are friends compared to an Irish man and an English man
    (unless, perhaps, they are two homosexuals at the Island of Capri Italy,
    neutral territory)

    being myself heterosexual, I hate the Portrait of Dorian Gray and I love The
    Importance of being Earnest.

    Fifth, do
    you remember the time when we – the Catholics and the Protestants – joined
    forces against Napoleon’ folly from Rome to London through Wien and Moscow? We
    should join forces today as well facing the crazy stuff of the millennium ahead,
    Islamic terrorism for instance.

    Sixth, in
    the US catholic are 24% of voting citizens and in the UK 7.8%. No puritan
    politician can afford hatred against the Catholic any longer, perhaps.

    Seventh. We
    both , the catholic and the protestants, committed horrible crimes in Human
    History. Let’s pray together for human and divine forgiveness. The Lutheran and
    the Catholic Churches issued a common declaration about faith in 1999; when a
    declaration between the Catholics and the Anglicans?



    My Twitter
    account, if mention is admitted, is @AAnnibale Andrea Chiodi

  • Londonistar

    I pray to God she stays safe. That country is full of violent people.

  • Little Black Censored

    Isn’t it still called “southern Ireland”? Next you’ll be saying Scoptland isn’t still called “North Britain”.

  • Seamus

    @What an ignorant thing to say. I think you’ll find the rate of violent crime is substantially higher on your island. HM is very welcome to come here

  • Ratbag


  • Marion (Mael Muire)

    “That country” (i.e., Ireland) “is full of violent people.”

    Indeed. It would appear that Ireland does contain a fair number of individuals who are willing to resort to violence for polititcal purposes.

    I would ask you to cast your mind back over history, and ask yourself whether it was not England (rather than violent Ireland), that for centuries sent legions of of well-armed soldiers to invade, sack, and oppress their neighboring people; whether it was not England, who stole the land of the local population, casting them out by force to live on infertile soil, while the invaders lived upon the fat of the land.

    The history of the English in Ireland from the early Middle Ages until today is unparalleled for its violence, rapaciousness, and brutality. 

    So while it is true that, today, “Ireland is full of violent people,” it must be pointed out the same has long been true of England, as well. Only more so.

    Much more so.

    That the English violence toward the people of Ireland has always been much better organized, indeed, institutionalized would appear to some to make it “respectable.”

    It is not respectable. Any more than a well-formed parade of SS troops is “respectable.” Organized and institutionalized they may be, but they are every bit as violent as any Irish terrorist, and, if anything, more dangerous.

  • Marion (Mael Muire)

    P.S. I am not “soft” on terrorism, by the way. Targetting non-combatants is a sin, whether the IRA does it, or the U.S does it, or Al-qaeda does it. Hiroshima and Nagasaki targetted non-combatants, as did the attacks on the Twin Towers in New York on 9/11; as do the IRA when they attack non-combatants. All of these are unacceptable – crimes against humanity. Two wrongs do not make a right.

  • Eduardicus Brevis

    When Edward VII visited Dublin, the wags in the pubs (among whom Joyce’s father was one) came up with the unforgettable, ‘There’s more pox than pax in that boyo.’  It will be interesting what gibes Elizabeth II’s visit inspires. 

  • Londonistar

    The usual Irish whine. Your sense of perpetual ‘hard done by’ ness in which bringing up medieval England (lol!)is somehow relevant to a bunch of Irishmen in 2011 buying RPGs to point at an octogenarian is comparable. You Irish -as pathetic a bunch of losers as ever. Clearly. Go ahead and blow up the queen if it resolves your sense of pain over being the historical losers you ever were. Forgetting of course the time you ran a portion of Wales as your own and were no doubt cherished saints in so doing.

  • Marion (Mael Muire)

    Thank you, Londonistar, for providing all of us with so apt an illustration of the cognitive style of the orc.* (If “cognition” can be ascribed to the orc, which is doubtful.)  

    I would remind other readers that truly civilized English persons today now reject the formerly orc-like behavior of the English nation toward the native peoples of Ireland, as well as toward the native people of Scotland, Wales, Cornwall, Canada, the United States, India, the Caribbean Islands, India, the Arabian Gulf, Sudan, Bhutan, Nepal, Sikkim, Ceylon, Burma, Singapore, Hong Kong, Australia, Malaya, Papua New Guinea, New Zealand, Kenya, Rhodesia, South Africa, Namibia, Cameroon, Togo, Tanganyika, etc., (you know the rest of the list.) I believe truly civilized English and Irish persons abhor and regret instances of domination, oppression, and violence in their country’s past, and would not dream of further insulting the victims of past atrocities.

    As for those English persons, as well as Irish persons, who remain, . . . er, orc-like in their outlook (the reader’s attention is directed to the exemplary comment above), it is hoped that they may one day become, well, less orc-like, and more like civilized human beings.

    *orcs featured in _The Lord of The Rings_ trilogy of motion pictures. These were the creatures whom Saurumon harangued with the words, “You know neither fear nor pain. You shall taste man-flesh!” . . . and the orcs were totally down with that.

    So there ya go.

  • Marion (Mael Muire)

    BTW, anyone who would attack Queen Elizabeth of England or any other non-combatant would be behaving after the fashion of orcs: the same orc-ish fashion in which the medieval English invaded and brutalized Ireland, and continued doing so, albeit in a more circumscribed fashion, to this very day.

    Those Irish persons who respond in kind are lowering themselves to the same level. . . .  to the level of the orc. God forbid that we should lose our humanity in this way.

  • Londonistar

    You’re so very very welcome! With luck us orcs will help lift the Oirish nationalists out of their misty eyed view of the past wherein they are the only true Celts and so very hard done by. Unlikely. Perhaps it will help if us Orcs set up a special on line help group for them all in which they can try dealing with their real history and not the imagined one!

  • Londonistar

    Hear hear. God forbid.

  • Londonistar

    Yup there ya go – a whole paragraph of historical nonsense and a sentence reserved for the violence being promised by your very own Orcs.

    Hey ho!

  • Anonymous

    what a productive comment 

  • Anonymous

    This is quite unbelievable considering the what the Queen is trying to do. Build-bridges. Whilst you are trying to tear them right down. 

  • Londonistar

     I am? By a comment? Rather than a pipe bomb. Fascinating. Here’s something to make you proud of the association with violence catholics can now be assured of precisely because of the violence on display today – again

    17.20 From a few hours ago, here’s a bit more on the bomb attempts.Patrick Mercer, MP for Newark and former Army officer who served in Northern Ireland and Bosnia, said:If it was a pipe bomb it is almost certainly a device from the Real IRA. Catholic groups tend to make bombs using bits of scaffolding while Protestant groups make bombs that look like grenades. This one was probably designed to disrupt the Queen’s visit not necessarily to go off. A pipe bomb goes off on impact unless it has a sophisticated timer which is unusual.

  • Anonymous

     Blanket statements about the Irish being a ‘violent people’ are not helpful. Neither are Marion’s talk of the English as Orc-like and uncivilised. 

    Bear-baiting and hate speech produced by both sides does not help, and is totally immoral. At least make the effort to make it a proper discussion, rather than purposely insulting rants.

    Both of you should be ashamed to be writing such things on a Christian website. Pathetic.

  • Marion (Mael Muire)

    Thanks for your opinion, Paulsays.

    I characterize the actions of all who invaded the lands of others and wrought harm as brutal and, yes, orc-like. Many English people now abhor and regret the harm they once did to the Irish and other native peoples, and that’s a good thing. I don’t think there is anything shameful or unChristian about stating that pillaging, looting, and burning a defenseless peasantry is objectionable. Apparently, in your opinion, such actions don’t deserve comment. There may be many reasons why you hold the opinion you do, but Christianity per se is not one of them.

  • Londonistar

    And pipe bombs associated with the catholic faith should be of deep concern to any well meaning catholic. Murder in the name of the catholic faith? The current crop of idiots setting fire to bins and rolling them down the street share little of even the values of the catholic faith much less the values of O’Connell, Tone or Collins. They are, like so many violent nationalists imbued with lists of wrongdoings just a bunch of shaven headed, unemployed twenty-something white Marxist yobs looking for any old umbridge connected to a past in which they have zero connection – modernity and peace offers nothing but boredom and these days it pays to be the endless victims. In what way is that catholic. There is never any shame for the sins of Ireland’s past or present or atonement for it but many demands made for the same and yet it remains a stalwart of the catholic faith. How is it not possible to reject that. As far as this corner of the world is concerned of which Ireland is a part, you can rely on the tumbleweed rolling when it comes to insisting the French teach their children about the Normans and the ‘harrying of the north’, Italians teach their young about the subjugation of the early Britons by the Roman empire and Scandinavian schools to tell their pupils about the ethnic cleansing of the Shetland Isles by Viking warriors. Forget about Irish dallyings with slavery right across that region or how they went on to treat the native Americans as badly as any other settlers there. Queen Elizabeth deserves a lot of credit for going into the lions den. The Irish seem to live and breathe bitterness over their history. And until it demonstrates otherwise Ireland remains a place to be associated with too much whataboutery, victimhood and needless slaughter of innocents the pinnacle of which remains Omagh for which there remains very little shame

  • Anonymous

    Yes the Queen deserves a lot of credit for trying to move things on, and start the healing process.

    You on the other hand – don’t.

  • Michell Eves

    I’m delighted our beloved Queen and defender of the faith has taken steps to visit the impoverished country of Ireland. They have enough problems with homosexual priests and their eu fantasy land they have been forced into. May she bring Peace and Gospel to the people of Ireland.

    God save the Queen!

  • Michell Eves

    The truth hurts

  • Dcruz

     The Queen should preach the gospel in England and to the english people first as many english are converting to Islam and what about the gay and homosextual pastors and bishops in the protestant churches.Keep your own house in orfer before pointing fingers at others.

  • Michelle Eves

    Why should our Queen restrict her faith just to England when she is Queen to 1/5th of the entire plant? (about a 1.5 times more than live under the rule of the roman Pope?)

    Homosexuals? Is it not the roman church where they found refuge?

  • Londonistar

    And Im quite fine with that. As long as there are terrorists in government. I doubt the healing process is as finely tuned in some households where so much suffering has been endured in the name of republican freedom espousing so called catholic values.

  • Rose

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  • Mark Mitchell

    typical english catholic bigot. you don’t see orange parades on your streets every summer with ‘kick the pope’ bands so do some research or are you so embarassed of being associated with the paddies you prefer to support ulster protestants hatemongers to prove your loyalty to the queen?