The woman who held the Queen Elizabeth’s handbag while she was planting a tree at Áras an Uachtaráin in 2011 was from Cavan. At least she lived there, near Lough Oughter, when I used to fish in the lake as a child. One day she even gave me a lift into town in what I vaguely remember as the most beautiful car in the world.
She died last winter, after loyal service to the queen for more than 40 years. And that irrational association is what intensified my affection for the Windsors — or the Battenbergs, as they are known by some anti-royalists in the more remote regions of west Cavan.
English monarchs are among the very few royal lines who still indulge in a ceremony of holy anointing, believing they are no less than God’s chosen ones. They adorn themselves in pageants of lavish Christian symbolism that trigger my religious fervour and devotion.
For some reason the late queen also reminded me of my mother. And perhaps that was why I always had enormous sympathy for her son Charles. I was moved to pity recently when I noticed his swollen fingers as he tried to sign some document or other.
‘Would you look at that wan,’ she declared, pointing at Lady Scotland, who was at the lectern in London, reading from Saint Paul’s letter to the Corinthians
My own ankles swell in a similar fashion when I’m on my feet for too long. I suppose age is the culprit, but it does make me empathetic towards his majestic fragility, as he assumes the crown in old age.
So I was determined to follow the royal funeral even though I had an appointment in Letterkenny on the day.
There were two choices for travel: either I could drive through Enniskillen and Strabane or I could burrow through the glens of north Leitrim, cross the county border at Tullaghan and then take the N15 through Laghy, Ballybofey and Stranorlar.
I opted for the latter, a scenic route through Drumkeerin, Glenade, Kinlough and Tullaghan, as Radio Ulster broadcast the funeral in living colour to the Irish nation.
I stopped in Bundoran for coffee.
The place was empty except for a young woman standing on a chair wiping dust from a high shelf. Local radio was playing country music; the television in the corner had been muted.
I sat with my back to the screen, not wishing to get distracted by the coffin and the candles as I licked cream and jam from a fresh scone. The young woman on the chair suddenly caught sight of something odd on the screen.
“Would you look at that wan,” she declared, pointing at Lady Scotland, who was at the lectern in London, reading from Saint Paul’s letter to the Corinthians.
Lady Scotland wore a black hat so dramatic that it cast the upper half of her face in shadow, and the camera focused on her mouth as if it were the beginning of a play by Samuel Beckett.
I turned on the sound and it still felt like a Beckett play. She spoke so slowly that I thought she might be struggling with complex emotions.
Her tongue was like a wand, crafting each syllable precisely, parsing each nuanced phrase in Saint Paul’s epistle and rendering the word of God exquisitely, in the archaic grammar of the King James Bible.
The London drums were silent now, and I could hear the land at last. It had been whispering to me all day, from Droim Caorthainn to Cionn Locha, from stan. The land that never spoke English
I drove onwards through Ballybofey and Stranolar, and in Letterkenny I stopped to have the car serviced.
The funeral was winding up.
I was waiting in the garage for new tyres when the new king’s eyes teared up, and the sounds of his national anthem rinsed his eardrums.
I felt his pain.
The stone vaults resonated with the sung prayers of the choir, and sailors gathered like penguins outside to draw the gun carriage while the bells tolled across London and reverberated in my little Toyota.
For me the best bit had been the sermon delivered by Justin Welby, the archbishop of Canterbury, who didn’t shy away from declaring his Christian faith — although perhaps it was a rather lukewarm resurrection that he spoke of, a tentative and saccharine hope that we would all “meet again”. But it was the moment when the shell of pomp and pageant found a beating heart.
I drove onwards towards the ocean. The sea was silver in the evening light, and the unruly landscape of rocks and wild bogland felt splendidly remote and free. The London drums were silent now, and I could hear the land at last. It had been whispering to me all day, from Droim Caorthainn to Cionn Locha, from stan. The land that never spoke English.