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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: May 15, 2009 @ 7:33 pm

    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.

    • Niall says:

      When the heck will people stop confusing protocol with manners? If you meet a man who stands with his hands in his pockets, do you get offended?

    • Daniel Sexton says:

      Well… if I was introduced to someone I’d offer my hand… that seems like manners… I mightn’t be offended if they kept their hands in their pocket but I’d conclude that the person was a bit of a c*ck.

      Besides aren’t we the precious ones who took such offence to Martin Johnson making our president walk on grass?

    • Neil Foster says:

      I’m utterly disgusted at the presumption that anyone should have respect for royalty wherever they’re from, generally the same European inter-related aristocratic families. These parasites have ruled over people, assuming ‘divine right’ to do so and have achieved this ‘right’ through colonialism, slavery, destruction of indigenous cultures, ruthless wars and treachery. This has all been done simply to enrich themselves and to maintain their despotic rule over their ‘subjects’.

      What is there to respect to respect in people who have behaved like this? They feed off their own populations whilst showing contempt for the very people who hold them in high esteem. We are still living in serfdom to these ‘royal’ families. They seem to think they are vastly superior beings to everyone below their own overinflated egotistical sense of worth. They deserve no respect. On the contrary they deserve to be despised by any fairminded person who believes in freedom and equality. Isn’t that what should be respected? Royal families throughout the world have suppressed their own people and continue to have the power to do so. People in this country should be aware that the British royal family are still not permitted to marry Roman Catholics. ‘I don’t respect’ is a phrase to be used in the same sentence as any one of ‘royal’ birth who holds such outdated and disgusting views. To quote Prince Philip,

      “In the event that I am reincarnated, I would like to return as a deadly virus, in order to contribute something to solve overpopulation”. By overpopulation, he’s not talking about royal overpopulation, he’s talking about us, you and I.
      This is a man who attended a Nazi school and was an avid supporter of the Nazi party and whose four sisters all married prominent Nazis.

      The British as with all people need to take their blinkers off and see these vicious people in their true light.

      I have no doubt that this letter will not be printed but really, people should take off the rose-tinted spectacles when it comes to praising ‘royalty’. They are where they are in society due to crimes against humanity committed in the past.

      Respect is a two-way street

    • Eoin Lynch says:

      The Queen is perhaps the most famous and longest-serving heads of states in the world and unlike our own unelected president she has never uttered a single controversial political comment in over sixty years of rule so she she has earned the right to be respected.

      I can never understand the hostility that nationalists have for the English monarchy. The Queen only reigns because parliament allows her to and if you accept the myth that we were an oppressed little colony then one’s ire should be directed to parliament and not to the descendant of the House of Hanover.

    • John says:

      I find this very strange. These are the same rugby players who are happy to abandon our national anthem and roar out the awful Ireland’s Call with pride. Deaglán, do you agree with dropping the national anthem to appease the Unionists? If you do, and at the same time agree with O’Gara keeping his hands in his pockets, then you are at one with many of the rugby fraternity. Also strange is how the same players are falling over themselves to be British Lions!

    • Tom Ennis says:

      I agree that Ireland’s Call is ropey but it is a not-unreasonable compromise given the circumstances. Perhaps we actually need to look at why we sing anthems before sporting occasions in any case. I believe the practice started in America during World War One to drum up nationalist fervor for the war effort. Before that, there was whatever music the clubs felt appropriate themselves. My only objection to Ireland’s Call is that it is insipid, not that it unreasonably replaces the Soldier’s Song. I have met several brits who would happily ditch God Save the Queen before their sporting events more because it is morose than out of any innate republicanism.
      As regards protocol, perhaps ROG was a bit boorish but that would have been true regardless of who was standing opposite

    • paul m says:

      British and Irish Lions, John. The distinction has been made in the official title so dot your i’s and cross your t’s please. Why shouldnt our players aspire to the highest levels of competition, especially since we’re so bloody good at it?

      I think it’s wonderful that the politics of sport does not mirror that of its governmental counterpart. A united Ireland plays in the GAA and IRFU (it is a shame the same can’t be said for FAI) and if this can be preserved by putting the awful Ireland’s Call in place of the national anthem then so be it. It’s about the game, everything else around it is just gloss and hype.

      Dont get me wrong I love belting out Amhrán na bhFiann before games, but I’m a proud Irishman who also couldn’t give a fig about the monarchy next door. If we’re to mature as a nation, as nationalists, we should be able to accept the head of state on a visit. We can still keep our hands in our pockets as Her Royal Headache’s cavalcade drives by. As O’Gara has shown, whether intentional or not, it’s the little things that count.

    • Hugh says:

      To John

      British AND IRISH Lions!

    • Deaglán says:

      Neil Foster: Your comments on Prince Philip may be a little OTT. For a somewhat more balanced account see the following:

    • dealga says:

      Hugh and Paul – dead right to take John to task. British and Irish Lions… sure aren’t the little roll-down bits at the top of the socks green and everything!

    • John says:

      Sorry , that should have been British and West British Lions!

    • Harry says:

      As an ‘incomer’ it seems to me that the Irish just don’t generally shake hands when being introduced socially. Whereas in France, you’d always shake hands with your builder, plumber, electrician etc and offer them an apero before they went home. Providing, of course, that they actually turned up.

    • John says:

      In response to PaulM , I think you will find that the FAI are all for an all-Ireland team but the Unionists wont agree.
      I think you will also find that the FAI never sent a team to South Africa while apartheid was in place.To borrow from you, it is shame that the same cant be said for the IRFU.

    • kynos says:

      Amhrán na bhFiann has a big fat lie in the middle of it. Why I immediately leave the room or wherever it’s been played.

      Fé mhóid bheith saor, / Sean tír ar sinsir feasta / Ní fhagfar fein tioran na fein traill. Can’t stand for that. Don’t want to offend those around me who won’t know why. So just quietly leave the room or venue or wherever. Ireland shelters despots and slaves every single day of the year down in the fetid bogs of Clare and very lucrative it is too.

    • kynos says:

      Suppose if I take the view that the National Anthem is as “aspirational” as the Constitution was ruled to be in relation to not sheltering or assisting despots and slaves while the former trample all over the latter and international law in the process I can grit my teeth and stay in the same room while it’s being played. Purely for politeness’ sake. As Kennedy said there’s no weakness in civility.

    • The Murphia says:

      I think the R’OGue rage in the meeja about that young rogue R’OG hands deep in pockets when introduced to the head of the Saxe Coburg Gotha dynasty may have been be somewhat hasty. Could it not be the case O’Gara Og was merely responding to an enquiry from her Madge to that old aphorism that Rugby is a game played with funny shaped balls? An alternative but fascinating historical explanation is said to have originated from an order given by the RIC IN 1921 when billeted in Macroom Castle that any Irishman seen walking with his hands in his pockets would be liable to be shot on sight. Giving rise to the view that it was the constitutional duty of Cork men to keep their hands in their pockets in the presence of British Royalty. How true this is I don’t know but it’s a great story! Way to Go Ro!

    • Jasper Wood says:

      Elizabeth Windsor is commander in chief of the British army. It is not incumbent upon any person who feels themselves wronged by such an entity to refuse courtesy on principle to the commander of such an entity. This ridiculous, as in deserving of ridicule, attitude that one should always be polite is beneath contempt. We are talking about someone who, albeit nominally, IS responsible for some horrific crimes against humanity. Just because you don’t want to be shown up in front of British royalty does not mean you have the right to pithily detract from the significant act of someone who respects history.

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