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Meghan Markle: How her sparkle dazzled Ireland too

How did this week’s royal visit become a national obsession here?

Conor Pope joins Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex in Dublin on their first trip abroad as a married couple. Video: Bryan O'Brien

Meghan Markle greeting spectators as they arrive for a visit at Trinity College in Dublin. Photograph: Trinity College handout

There really is something about Meghan, isn’t there? The glistening mane of hair, the doe-eyed Hepburn ebullience, the dashing royal hubby, the intriguing Hollywood past.

Whatever that “something” is, it was certainly enough to have Irish people in their thousands down tools in their normal lives and line the streets of Dublin. People willingly showed up in the hopes of not just meeting, but savouring a mere glimpse of Meghan Markle this week. Even normally measured people like a friend of mine, who ditched her entire lunch hour to stake out Camden Street along with hundreds of others, got gladly caught up in the fever.

But here’s the thing. We Irish aren’t usually wont to slobbering in public over celebrities, not en masse at any rate. We like to think of ourselves as being a bit above all of that. We’ve had a keen nose for a celebrity’s need to get away from it all. Harry and Meghan’s visit was in an official capacity, of course, but the point still stands.

Prince Harr and Meghan Markle watch Galway’s Joe Canning give an exhibition of hurling at Croke Park. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

Even more intriguingly, we in Ireland tend to not get overly gripped in royal fever, either, certainly not in the “loyal subject” way our British counterparts might. Fine if you happen to see, say, Charles and Camilla on walkabout in Donegal, but you’re not likely to take a day off from work to do it.

So how, exactly, did this week’s royal visit become a national obsession? How did it come to pass that everyone had an opinion on their visit, and knows that he had the lamb, while she had the hake?

There’s little doubting that Meghan Markle is the most talked-about woman of the summer. I feel I’ve been writing about her non-stop this year, and there’s perhaps a very good reason for this. For newspaper editors, Meghan is heaven-sent. In the Venn Diagram of women worth writing about, she manages to hit the young royals, the beautiful Hollywood star, and the sassy American feminist circles. It’s quite the intersection.

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex visit the Dogpatch startup hub in Dublin. Photograph: Jimmy Rainford/Getty Images

Given that Meghan had several series of a sexy TV drama under her belt, too, there was little shortage of photos of her to run alongside stories; in the world of tabloids, this will almost certainly ensure that the spotlight rarely strays from you.

Add a somewhat opportunistic extended family into the mix (hers, in case you’re unclear), and the Harry and Meghan wedding became the gift that kept on giving. A now-famous photo of the teenaged Meghan sitting outside Buckingham Palace as a tourist became symbolic of a new type of dream. Even in this capricious, uncertain world, upward mobility - even into the royal family - is still possible. No wonder it’s the story the media refused to move away from.

Yet gorgeous actresses are in bountiful supply. Rather, it’s her effect on the royals that has proved the true might of the Markle Sparkle. In the annals of dusty, starched royals, she stands out an absolute mile, yet somewhat paradoxically, it’s her modernity and brand of feminism that appears to have worked to her favour.

Meghan Markle visiting the Famine Memorial on the bank of the River Liffey. Photograph: Zak Hussein/Getty Images)

Historically, the British royal family has been wary of loose canons and spirited women; even more so of women with a past (and marriage) behind them. The crown, up until this point, has liked its royals to say little: some have said this is precisely the longstanding appeal of the queen.

Yet Meghan is unapologetic of her past and her roots, and determined to carry on her work as an outspoken feminist. Having A Past didn’t quite work for spiky Wallis Simpson 80 years ago, but the queen has evidently seen something she likes in Meghan Markle. Last month, Meghan joined the queen, unaccompanied by other members of The Firm on a royal visit to Chester. It didn’t happen in Fergie’s day, put it that way.

There’s a lot of chat about the Fab Four (William, Kate, Harry, Meghan) breathing new life into an institution that was fast becoming a victim of its own stuffy, insular reputation. Being on a different plane to everyone else might have worked for the royals in the past, but not anymore. Yet of the four, there’s only really one doing the spadework and splitting with tradition. Certainly, US ministers, fathers in cahoots with paparazzi, and gospel choirs in Windsor Castle are a new one on us, and it’s keeping us positively gripped on the royals in a way we haven’t been before.

When you think about it, perhaps the crown needs Meghan more than she needs them.