The Queen has won respect from many Irish who thought they were immune for the brisk and unsentimental way she has shattered a history of enmityby Colin Murphy / May 19, 2011 / Leave a comment
The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh greet Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore. Picture: The Irish Labour Party
I joined the small crowd at the barrier to watch the Queen drive past. “Will she be on a horse?” a boy asked the nearest policeman. The policeman replied in a strong Donegal accent.
“Mister,” said a girl, “are all the police today from Donegal because the Queen owns dem countries?” (Whatever the status of the six counties of Northern Ireland, the Queen very definitely has no claim on Donegal, which is part of the republic, though in the northwest of the island.)
It has been a strange but memorable week in Dublin. The city has been in near lockdown. Innumerable numbers of police in high-visibility jackets, lining empty roads, have given it an eerie, sci-fi feel. The Queen has made no public appearances, and the small crowds that have lined the routes of her itinerary have been largely accidental: pedestrians stuck trying to cross the city, but happy to catch a glimpse of royalty while they wait.
This is a pity. Because Elizabeth II has quickly won respect and even affection here for the brisk and unsentimental way she has gone about shattering the shibboleths of postcolonial enmity.
A number of the London newspapers reported the royal visit with headlines playing on the motif of “one small step…”: the Independent front page featured a close-up photo of the royal foot landing on Irish soil. The echoes of the moon landing seemed appropriate (as the commentator Fintan O’Toole noted later): to many British, Ireland has sometimes seemed as alien as the moon.
But richer iconography was to follow. At the one-time Viceregal Lodge, now the presidential residence (Áras an Úachtaráin), the Queen was received by the president, Mary McAleese, and a military guard of honour. She was greeted, in Irish, as “Banríon Éilís a dó,” and the army band struck up God Save The Queen. In the wake of an economic crisis that has seen Irish sovereignty compromised by the effective handover of fiscal authority to the European Central Bank and IMF, it was extraordinary (if paradoxical) to see that sovereignty reaffirmed by the Irish army playing the British anthem for the British monarch.
And it was heretofore inconceivable to imagine that anthem being played in Dublin’s Garden of Remembrance. Though the garden plays little role in the everyday life of the city, and…