At a charity event one of the speakers told a story. The gardaí found a homeless boy. They asked him: what’s your father’s name? His answer was: Peter McVerry.
This isn’t some shocking revelation. For the boy, Fr Peter McVerry was the closest thing to a parent that he knew. The event, not coincidently, was to raise funds for the Peter McVerry Trust. The man himself was there, grinning awkwardly at people who came to pay tribute, ask questions or proffer opinions.
Despite his modesty, he has received a lot of recognition for his work and the sometimes uncomfortable points he makes about how we treat those with the least.
And he’s one pristine example of a person who came to public attention through what they do. There are many others: individuals involved in social activism or entertainment, sport, art, business, even politics. They have, generally speaking, worked hard and leveraged their abilities to achieve different forms of success.
God thinks Prince Charles is better than you
The same thing happens on a local level, where the football team or entrepreneur or charity organiser achieves a degree of celebrity. It’s how meritocratic societies work.
None of which applies to the British royal family. I don’t get it. I don’t get why the media and public get puppy-eyed over a group of people who have never done anything.
This should be the bit where I insert the sentence, I'm not anti-royalist but …, except I am anti-royalist. I fundamentally object to the idea that anyone is inherently better than anyone else. We are commoners; they are not.
In a Republic, where everyone is (theoretically) equal, the likes of Peter McVerry or Brendan O'Carroll or Katie Taylor are recognised for what they have done, not who they are. And yes, our media universe is stuffed with people with rich daddies who are functionally useless but still seek our attention. But at least those people pretend to be like you and me. They see some merit in that.
The royal family doesn't pretend. They can't, as the fundamental idea of being royal is that God willed it so. God thinks Prince Charles is better than you.
Royalty-love seems to have flourished in this country – or emerged from the closet – to the extent that pointing out any of this makes you a cranky killjoy. Sure what harm are they doing? And don't they generate a lot of tourism? Which is true, though this has to be balanced against the considerable cost of maintaining them. (When Harry and Meghan visited here a few weeks back, it cost this State millions.) And if the monarchy were disestablished in the morning, wouldn't people still go to see Buckingham Palace anyway? It's not as if people are queuing up to get a selfie with Queen Elizabeth.
Then there's the they-do-a-lot-for-charity argument. The royals are patrons for thousands of charities, yet despite their fabulous wealth they don't directly contribute to any of them. They "raise awareness", usually by making a visit which – quelle surprise – costs the taxpayer a fortune. This cost often outstrips the financial gain to the charity. The real winner is Buckingham Palace's PR department.
I am anti-royalist, but I bear no ill will towards the Windsors. If anything, I feel sorry for them. They’ve never paid a bill or skipped a mortgage payment or had to apply for a job. They’ve never experienced what most of us regard as Real Life. Even if the monarchy were abolished, the British taxpayer would still have to pay for them. Making small talk and waving aren’t marketable skills, so they’d probably have to claim the dole. Real Life would quickly defeat them.
They might even end up homeless, and become the sorts of people Peter McVerry cares for and the rest of us ignore.