Saturday, May 21, 2011

The Queen in Ireland

No doubt, THE big royal event of last week was the visit of HM Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom to the Republic of Ireland, an historic event, being the first visit of a British monarch to the Irish republic in almost a century. The Queen had long wanted to visit Ireland and many in the Irish government had been working for the visit to take place for some time but it had not been possible until now. The reasons why are, of course, obvious and were on full display during the royal visit. There were protestors, unprecedented security measures and no speeches by the Queen other than one at the formal dinner held in her honor. A bomb was found and another fake bomb threat kept Irish security forces on their toes. However, most of the Irish were welcoming and some expressed disgust at those who cling to their hatred over past grievances and refuse to move forward. That is certainly true as, regardless of the circumstances, threats and insults against the Queen on such a visit does nothing but present a very negative image of Ireland.

I am not as opposed to the Irish republic as most monarchists might be. As I have mentioned before, Irish republicanism is something that I do, at least *understand* even though I still oppose it and would prefer to see an independent Ireland become again a confederate monarchy as in the days of old. It is also specifically because of my very pro-British standpoint that I find republicanism in Ireland at least understandable and more understandable than in other areas. The reason for that being that, in terms of the historic relations between Britain and Ireland, my disappointment arises from the certain knowledge that the British rule or misrule of Ireland was the exception rather than the norm. Given all the Irish suffered over the centuries it is understandable, though no less unfortunate and unnecessary, that they should be republicans. My disappointment with some of the historical actions of Britain in Ireland arises from my certain knowledge that the British were better than that. In fact, as controversial as this may be, if Britain had governed and behaved in Ireland as they did in almost any other of their numerous colonies I doubt there would be an Irish republic today.

The reasons for this are many, complex and not worth going into at the moment. They have also been shifting, from dynastic disputes to religious bigotry to nationalism and ethnic prejudice. However, in recent years at least, it is important to make a distinction between Anglo-Irish relations and the quite separate ugly events that have plagued Northern Ireland. Just as past or present British bigotry against any and all things Irish is unjustified, so to is past or present Irish bigotry against any and all things British, especially in terms of the situation in Northern Ireland as the “British” public has long had a very different attitude than the Unionist community in Northern Ireland that most Irish have a problem with. Yet, this situation has tainted, for a long time, Anglo-Irish relations in general. In spite of the fact that, especially as concerns the monarchy, this is totally unjustified.

As I have mentioned before, for quite some time, even when the British government was very anti-Irish in many ways, the British monarch was often the one voice of reason, compassion and wisdom in dealing with the situation in Ireland. Yet, the bitter feelings remained, partly because this was drummed up by revolutionary Irish republicans and partly because much of what British monarchs have done for Ireland over the years have been little known. However, the visit of the Queen was something very public, something everyone could see and watch (and could only have been better if the revolutionary trash had not been such a security risk) and truly set a new tone in Anglo-Irish relations. I do not think it is an overstatement to say that Her Majesty has given both countries a wonderful opportunity to make a fresh start and put the past behind them. History cannot be changed or forgotten, nor should it be, but nor should it shackle us, as the Queen herself so wisely pointed out. To be blunt about it, Britain has accepted Irish independence, they have gotten over the loss and, by and large, hold no grudges.

What about Ireland though? Has the republic moved on and let bygones be bygones? Perhaps, but it seems to me at least, that if so, certainly not to the same extent. This is, again, somewhat understandable given that in terms of Britain and Ireland it was undeniably Ireland that suffered more. However, especially given the recent visit by the Queen, there is now absolutely no hindrance to Ireland moving on and becoming a fast friend with their nearest neighbor. The opportunity is here for Ireland to put the past behind them and move on and I sincerely hope they do so. Frankly, given the itinerary of the Queen, I am surprised even the most radical republicans found anything to complain about. It seemed to me, if anything, there would have been more room for British grumblings about the Queen being *too* conciliatory in the places she went and the sites she visited.

For example, the Queen visited the Garden of Remembrance which honors all those who have fought for Irish independence from Britain, even though some of those episodes were really less than admirable enterprises. I do not say the Irish should not commemorate them, but it might be a bit much to expect the British Sovereign to honor those who were their inveterate enemies, even those whose rebellions occurred in cooperation with powers like republican France or Imperial Germany against whom Britain herself was engaged in a war for her survival at those times in history. Yet, the Queen did so, and I noticed no serious voices of complaint from Great Britain on the subject. By now, just about everyone in Europe has fought everyone else at one time or another and if everyone dwelled on every past conflict there would be little or no discourse between anyone. That, national duty, can justify such a visit. I will, however, admit to a bit of a cringe at the Queen visiting Croke Park.

It was at that stadium, in 1920, where British forces fired indiscriminately into the crowd at a football match, killing 14 people in retaliation for the assassination of a like number of British officials by the IRA. I wonder whose idea was it for the Queen to go there? I confess, I really didn’t like the sound of that. Even in 1920, of course, King George V was horrified at what happened and I think it does no service to anyone to have the Queen go there now. It seems a bit like taking something terribly cruel done on the part of Britain in the past and rubbing their face in it to me. Call that one a bridge too far in my opinion. However, again, I heard no outcry in Britain against it. If it helps to smooth things over all well and good, though for those who still think they must seek “justice” for such historic crimes, no royal visit, no words, nothing at all will ever satisfy them and as such I think no one should try. You do not need to forget it happened, but neither the Queen nor any Briton today needs to flog themselves over it.

I say all of this because, as I have stated before, the “victim mentality” does no good for Ireland or any other nation or individual person. Ireland will never achieve a true feeling of national equality with the UK so long as they continue to define themselves only as constant victims of British cruelty. Likewise, while Britain as any country should be ashamed of past crimes, that does not mean they need to be constantly expected to feel ashamed of themselves. For me at least, part of the reason why I so sympathize with the Irish is because British behavior in their regard was so out of the ordinary. Taken as a whole, the British Empire was not a cruel or oppressive force in the world and subject peoples were generally governed efficiently, humanely and quite often to their benefit. Britons should feel justifiable pride in the fact that the treatment of Ireland was an obvious aberration and that nations raised up by the British Empire have done comparatively better than those of any other.

The Queen was her usual flawless self on this visit and certainly seemed to impress the Irish officials, particularly when she opened her speech at dinner with a few words in Gaelic. However, that is the Queen, that is someone who is a veteran of such affairs and who has spent a lifetime gaining experience at how to hit just the right note. This visit gives both countries the opportunity to start over and for those who insist on clinging to the adversarial mentality, I think the Queen, by being so conciliatory, claimed the moral high ground on this visit. She acknowledged the failings of her own country, she honored the founders of Irish independence, in short did everything to express British support and acceptance for the Irish republic. I hope Ireland will join her on the moral high ground.

The north may remain a sore subject but, at this point it honestly has very little, if anything, to do with Great Britain and Ireland. In fact, if anything, London and Dublin have rather reversed places on that score with London really wanting to be rid of Northern Ireland but not being able to say so and Dublin really wanting London to keep it but not being able to say so. In any event, even the people in the north are tired of fighting about that one and while many might like to grumble very few are willing to do much about it. If they can at least manage to tolerate each other there is no reason Britain and Ireland should feel compelled to carry on past prejudices on their behalf. After all, like a divorced couple, Britain and Ireland cannot ignore each other, cannot escape the fact that they have a history together and so should try to make the best of it. The Queen has shown, on this visit, her commitment to do so and that is a good thing for everyone. Britain and Ireland have too much in common and are too closely neighbors to ignore the fact that, even as independent powers, they are stronger in cooperation as allies than they would be as enemies.

God Save the Queen and Ireland Forever!


  1. Beautiful words. You are right, if anything, the British are remarkably tolerant and forgiving people. The victim mentality has been entrenched in Anglo-Saxon societies (UK, Australia and others) over the last 50 years making out that British/Anglo-Saxon people are the "villains" and "oppressors" and everyone else as noble victims. Yet compare most of Britain's former colonies in the Western Hemisphere, in the Caribbean for instance, and they turned out much better than most countries in the Hemisphere. I'm sure Belize are glad to be independent rather than become part of Guatemala.

    The victim mentality and guilt complex is inhibiting the West's own ability to defend its culture and heritage in this day and age.

    The Jacobites had significant Scottish and Irish support, because they had hoped to recover lost independence. And the Repeal Movement of the 19th century sought only to restore the pre-Act of Union Kingdom of Ireland. A parallel can be drawn with the Carlists since they too won significant Basque and Catalan support and influenced Basque and Catalan nationalism.

    Would the Irish have given consideration to a Catholic monarchy upon independence? Even restoring one of their ancient dynasties?

  2. That's true, in fact, one of my favorite Irish songs (now known as a nationalist song), Óró, Sé do Bheatha 'Bhaile, was originally a Jacobite song and one of the reasons why Cromwell was so vicious on the island was because Confederate Ireland had supported King Charles I in the English Civil War. In the '45 one of the top commanders (QM General I think) was an Irishman.

    As for post independence, if you check past posts on Ireland I have dealt with this. There are those who support it today and small factions have in the past. There was talk in the Easter Uprising of making Prince Joachim of Prussia the King of Ireland (figuring that success would depend on Germany winning the war) though he was of course a Protestant. With all due respect to the Kaiser's son, replacing one German Protestant king with another would seem rather ridiculous to me. And of course the actual King of Ireland at the time (King George V) advised against overreacting to the Easter Uprising but was, unfortunately ignored.

    At the time, there were enough monarchists so that even De Valera had to promise a referendum on the subject (never delivered) but the independence movement tended, I think, to be too dominated by revolutionary, socialist types who would never have gone along with any sort of monarchy no matter who the King was. They would settle for nothing less than a Marxist republic -and some of those are still around in the pseudo-IRA groups, just as opposed to the Republic of Ireland as they are the UK.

  3. Well said Mad One, and the actions of the protesters were regrettable in the extreme, and I've touched on the victim mentality myself (and the 'Slave' mentality that affects Northern Irish Nationalists in particular) and you are quite right in pointing out that it hampers progress of the Irish Republic.

    My own gripe with the visit, as I made a post about, describe's my vehement attitude to the Irish Media's interpretation of the visit, not so much that the Queen became their darling for a brief moment (nothing wrong with that) but the shameless west-briton attitude rampent in the media that disgusts me and hinders any effort in having Irish people think of Monarchy outside of the British context. As successful as this visit was, I doubt many were convinced that Royalty was not anything but a British thing and we were entertaining our neighbour's monarch, which is a damn shame.

  4. I visited Ireland once and lived with a Catholic upper-middle class family (they lived in a fine farm house about 20 minutes outside of Cork). They seemed completely disinterested in holding grudges against the English.

    Conversely, a friend of mine taught English in the middle and elementary schools of a very poor Dublin neighborhood, and he said to me that the people there blamed all of their problems on the English.

    I'm wondering if the resentment has become a class issue?

  5. I would not be surprised if such were the case. We live the era of no personal responsibility and (especially the revolutionary crowd) always press on the poor that they "can't help it", it's always someone else's fault. Taking the Marxist line, they never advocate trying to create wealth but taking it from others. No one can be rich, they argue, without making someone else poor, everyone who has money must have "stolen" it from someone else.

  6. The Marxists think in terms of a Zero Sum game.

    I think also that a lot of the Irish issues with Britain are like
    America's own endless discussions about politicians we disagree with
    "Acting like Monarchs".

    I think that people think in stories. They tend to interpret all of life

    through parables and archetypes. Of course, both America and Ireland have a similar story of Revolutionary Struggle against oppression, and thus define not merely Britain, but the British Monarchy in particular and
    Monarchy in general as the very definition of Oppression.

    While loads of people realise things are more complex, if the whole
    OF Irelands modern Identity is base don the story in which they are
    victims of evil British oppression, then obviously they will try to see
    everything through that filter and make events fit their scenario in
    Mind. Conversely, believing that Republicanism leads to Freedom is
    another part of the tale, and no on seems to question it.

    I mean, lets face it, Ireland gave up its independence by joining the EU
    and now begs for its existence from Brussels. The reason this doesn’t
    anger people is because there is no cognitive association between Britain and the EU. It doesn’t matter that Republicanism didn’t bring freedom, they think it does because they merge the two in their heads. It doesn’t matter that Ireland is not Free in reality, they think it is. It doesn’t
    matter that the EU is as much controlling as London ever was, its not
    London so its OK.

  7. I've often wondered about how the Irish feel about comparisons with America. Odd as it may be for someone this side of the Atlantic to say, I think the Irish had far more justification for rebellion than America did. In one country you have no freedom of religion for the majority, no right to your property, no right to an education, poverty and starvation. In the other, you have almost no taxes at all, cheap land, freedom of religion (moreso in Canada admittedly), and overall a land of milk and honey, far more prosperous than the homeland itself. I would think the Irish would get annoyed at what they were enduring only to have Americans try to compare their cases because that rascal King George wanted to tax their tea!

  8. That may be the reality, but I'm discussing the impression and the role of the mythic History in the Psyche. In that way, Americans and Irishmen hold similar Psycological patterns in dealign wiht Revolution.

    The fact that America was not really oppressed and King George was not really a Tyrant doens't factor into how Americans beleive colonial life to be.

  9. I live in Ireland myself and i hate it hear , the republic is a sham it provides no inspiration at all , it's not family orientated at all , it's all business and how can we make the most amount of money and loook where that has gotten us , I'm in favor of a Dual Monarchy with the United Kingdom but with the North and south reunited again it could work very easily , we just have to bury the Hatchet

    1. You're in favour of a diarchy? How would it work, exactly? An unelected sovereign, the King or Queen, ruling alongside an elected sovereign, a kind of Lord Protector of the Crown, or Governor-General, or Steward of the Crown?

      Would there be a Prime Minister, as well?

  10. A well thought-out and most vibrant piece, I enjoyed reading it - your insights to history and your research stand out most visibly in your writing, I must say.

    I've read Andrew Marr's wonderful book "The Diamond Queen", and so I'd like to add a little something of his views here. He stated of this historic visit, that nobody else could have done it, and he was right. No President of Great Britain could possibly have ever done what the Queen did. It wouldn't have had the same effect in a thousand years. The warmth and sincerity of the Queen shone through in a way that might have seemed "put on" by a President.

    Whilst the assassination of Lord Mountbatten was an inarguable tragedy, it gave the Queen herself a link with the troubled past that no British politician could have stood up and talked about and said "let bygones be bygones" over.

    That is one of Marr's main arguments for the favour of the British monarchy - to be able to say and do things and cultivate friendly relationships in ways that no politician, businessman or ambassador could achieve; and I must say that I agree with him.

    As the Irish PM said of her visit: "she closed a circle of history".


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