Hands in Pockets, Pockets in Pants
Deaglán de Bréadún
It never ceases to amaze me how many people in this country are willing to rally round the Royals when someone is seen to insult them. Many moons ago, Maeve Binchy caused a furore with a less-than-adoring colour piece in this newspaper on the wedding of Charles and Diana.
Casual acquaintances (Photograph: Frank Miller)
It is my experience that even persons of a traditional Irish republican outlook are not necessarily hostile to the Windsors. The tabloid minutiae of their private lives fascinate the Irish punter as much as they do the public in other countries including the great republic on the other side of the Atlantic.
King George V played a constructive role during our own War of Independence with a conciliatory speech at the opening of the Northern Ireland parliament. Irish republicanism is really nationalism in overdrive and differs significantly from the anti-aristocratic version which was so prevalent on the Continent in the 19th Century.
This came home to me at a dinner-party in Moscow when I worked there as a correspondent some years ago where one of the guests came from a highly-aristocratic Russian family who had been dispossessed by the October Revolution.
His father, or maybe grandfather, had been obliged to flee to South America where he made his living by selling broomhandles, of all things. My fellow-guest lamented what the Bolsheviks had done to his family’s estates when they took over.
Without wanting to defend V.I. Lenin and his friends, I nevertheless made the point in response that some people felt the aristocracy had originally dispossessed many smaller landowners themselves and therefore had a weak moral case.
“That’s a republican concept by its very nature,” he rather crossly responded. I was slightly taken aback, in that I was not used to thinking of republicanism in that light. Really I regarded republicanism in Ireland as a kind of nationalism on Vi*agra (have to put the asterisk in or there might be transmission problems.)
But back to the British Monarch. Once upon a time I was invited as a journalist to a function in Hillsborough Castle, where I was presented with the opportunity to shake her hand under the full glare of TV cameras but did not take it. I was very polite and extricated myself from what had turned into a receiving line before she saw me. I wasn’t ready to appear on the Nine O’Clock News shaking hands with HRH. I probably wouldn’t have a problem with it today.
Rugby star Ronan O’Gara took another course of action, perhaps unconsciously. As the picture shows (a great news pic, it must be said) he had his hands in his pockets. I don’t know if he kept them there and I can’t decide whether Brian O’Driscoll is covering his face from embarrassment or out of a desire to hide a smile.
Needless to say, there has been a minor furore. All I can say is, Get a life and refurbish your sense of humour. From the TV coverage it looked as if one of the rugby-players was wearing slip-on shoes but I couldn’t discern which one.
It’s good for Irish rugby that players are not seen to be kowtowing to the denizens of Buckingham Palace. The GAA should not be allowed the exclusive franchise on nationalism.
As stated in a previous blog, I would have no great problem with rejoining the Commonwealth as part of a deal for a United Ireland, a perspective shared by Eamon de Valera I believe. It seems the Queen may even be replaced as head of that organisation by the head of another member-state in the future.
A friend of mine who lived in Scotland for a few years told me his family were astonished at the level of anti-Englishness to be found there, which you simply would not come across in this country. Some Northern unionists evince a level of anti-English sentiment which you just don’t find down here. Most people I know would have reservations of varying degrees about British Government policy in Northern Ireland prior to the peace process (particularly during the awful events of Bloody Sunday in Derry) but that never shaded into personal antipathy towards English/British people themselves. I can honestly say I have hardly ever met an Irish nationalist or republican who was anti-English in the ethnic sense.
If you have access to our wonderful digital archive, that Maeve Binchy piece appeared on 30 July 1981. It still reads well today.