Queen taken by history of Irish college with royal connection


People who met the Queen remarked upon how friendly, deeply engaged and good humoured she was

THE VISIT of Queen Elizabeth II to Trinity College Dublin yesterday reflected a a strong historical and symbolic connection between the royal family and the university that extends back over 400 years to Queen Elizabeth I.

In 1592, Queen Elizabeth I provided the legal charter to establish the university. Yesterday, the Queen and her husband, Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, viewed the original charter in the college’s Long Room.

During the visit, they also viewed pages from TCD’s most important treasure, the Book of Kells. The Queen also met with several hundred people at a reception hosted by the provost, Prof John Hegarty, and the chancellor, Dr Mary Robinson.

Those she met included academic staff from all Irish universities; Trinity students; prominent figures from the arts, music, government, business, innovation, education, and people from the local community.

In the course of a visit that lasted more than an hour, the Queen was said by those present to have been friendly and good humoured, and she engaged in conversation for far longer and more deeply than had been expected.

The Queen and her entourage, which included British foreign secretary William Hague, arrived by motorcade through the front arch of the university shortly after 3.30pm. She and the Duke of Edinburgh were met by Dr Hegarty, his wife Neasa Ní Chinnéide Hegarty; Dr Robinson; Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn; Minister of State Ciaran Cannon; and TCD college librarian Robin Adams.

The Queen and the Duke viewed the two volumes of the Book of Kells on display, one showing pages from the Gospel of St Luke, the other from St John.

The royal party then moved to the Long Room, completed in 1732, which houses 200,000 of the library’s oldest books. The royal party was applauded by the 250 people present. They spoke to each group. Both spent some time viewing the College Harp, from the 15th century: a replica of which was played by harpist Siobhan Armstrong.

Mr Adams showed the main features from the display of the original royal charter. They finally signed the visitors’ book before departing for Farmleigh.

Speaking immediately after the Queen’s departure, Prof Hegarty described the visit as “wonderful” and “historic”.

“The connection between the present Queen Elizabeth and the first Queen Elizabeth is very special to Trinity. [The visit] gave us an opportunity to showcase everything that is wonderful about Ireland at the moment.”

Dr Hegarty said he was amazed at how the Queen had interacted so well with people from so many different backgrounds, from scientists to business people and writers.

“She was particularly intrigued by the sound of the harp. On the way back she was still listening to the harp and saying it was really unusual. She was really engaged. She stopped more often than I expected with people and engaged with them much more and very personally.”

Dr Robinson said that the visit brought back memories from 20 years ago, shortly after she became president of Ireland.

“I was invited to take an honorary degree in Cambridge. I put this to the government. There was quite a consternation. No Irish president before had gone to England for events. That was the start, as far as I was concerned, of breaking out of the rather artificial relationship,” she said.

Dr Robinson then referred to the important work of her successor, President Mary McAleese, and said the peace process was at the heart of creating an atmosphere which made the visit possible.

“It was a great pleasure to see how much both the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh enjoyed the Book of Kells and the charter of the university, which was founded by a woman, Elizabeth I.

“The Queen was particularly very good at engaging people. I was accompanying the Duke [through the grounds of Trinity] and he was irrepressible. He teased the students [some 250 were in a cordoned area] about what they were studying,” she said.

Prince Philip has a reputation for making idiosyncratic remarks and the occasional gaffe. One student told The Irish Times he told a fellow student: “You do not sound like a native”.

The poet Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill said that what she noticed about the Queen was her clear and clever eyes. “I do not remember the colour but you see the intelligence in them.” The Queen also spent some time talking to Niamh Fortune, a student at the National Institute of Intellectual Disability at TCD. Ms Fortune said it was her first time meeting Queen Elizabeth and she thought it was brilliant.

Prof Ciaran Brady of the history department said it clearly established normal relations with “our nearest neighbour, our biggest trading partner, with which we have profound cultural and historical links”.

TCD event attendance

Among those who met Queen Elizabeth at Trinity College yesterday were celebrated British author Terry Pratchett (an adjunct professor at TCD); film director Neil Jordan; artist Dorothy Cross; TCD professor of history Eunan O’Halpin; businessman Martin Naughton; law professor Gerry Whyte; Raymond Keaveney, director of the National Gallery of Ireland; Micheál Ó Suilleabháin, professor of music at the University of Limerick; poet Gerald Dawe; novelist Anne Enright; Luke O’Neill, professor of biochemistry at TCD; Pat Wallace, director of the National Museum; Prof Patrick Prendergast, provost-elect at TCD; John Healty, chief executive of Atlantic Philanthropies; Philip Lane, professor of economics in TCD; Dr Ruth Barrington, former chief executive of the Health Research Board; Dr Jim Brown, president of NUIG; and Irish language commissioner Seán Ó Cuirreáin.