Attitudes to a royal visit coinciding with 1916 celebrations

Wed, May 21, 2014, 01:01

What differentiates our attitudes to a royal visit to the 1916 celebrations, the latest Irish Times/IPSOS Mrbi poll suggests, are merely degrees of enthusiasm. And – how times have changed – considerable enthusiasm at that. Seven in 10 of us (69 per cent) welcome the prospect of such a visit, and even six out of ten Sinn Féin supporters (59 per cent) do so. Fine Gaelers and farmers (79 and 77 per cent respectively) are the keenest of all, while enthusiasm also rises gently with age.

The psychological hurdle of Queen Elizabeth’s successful visit here three years ago and the first Irish presidential state visit to the UK by President Michael D Higgins this year have clearly banished some of the old shibboleths. It’s now acceptable to confess to being a sneaking regarder of royalty, or an addict of the grand soap opera played out in Windsor and Buckingham Palace .

That is not to say that we have reverted to cap-doffing deference to aristocracy, to our “betters”, or that we are acknowledging an inferiority complex vis a vis our neighbours and former masters. Or that we are any less a democratic republic.

On the contrary, the continued, quaint adherence of our neighbours to a system, albeit largely ceremonial, of hereditary monarchy has an amusing curiosity value fed by a Ruritanian cast of characters. Who are we to complain if they should choose to send some members of the royal family as their representatives to our national day to acknowledge our moment of nationhood and independence? Their democratic prerogative, paradoxical as it may seem.

And yet, will a royal presence threaten to transform or obliterate the meaning of our 1916 celebrations – or inspire forgetfulness in us about its true character, as one academic has suggested? Not if we don’t let it. On the other hand a royal presence can be a powerful, tangible expression of the friendship of two peoples, two allies, equals, and a sign that history, though not forgotten, has moved on.