Reconciliation likely to be keynote of resumed royal visits


OPINION:The queen is coming to call on us . . . like many of her predecessors over several centuries, writes DENIS FAHEY

PREPARATIONS FOR the State visit next year by Queen Elizabeth will doubtless involve a look back by officials in Dublin and London at the precedents, including the last visit of a British monarch to Dublin, in July 1911, and the private or official visits of other members of the royal family.

The then future King Edward VII spent time in the Curragh as a young army officer, and had a vigorous social life here. George V, in his own words, enjoyed many happy days in Ireland as a midshipman, and his daughter, Princess Mary, the first royal to visit the Irish Free State privately, was made welcome when she and her husband Viscount Lascelles stayed in his family castle in Portumna in 1928.

Princess Margaret visited her husband’s relatives in Co Laois on a few occasions in the 1960s, despite threats from the IRA, and Princess Anne famously had a discussion with Charles Haughey about a menu. The Duchess of York is a frequent visitor, and Prince Philip and the Prince of Wales have both made official visits to Dublin.

The first king of England to visit us was Henry II in 1171. If the papal bull, Laudabiliter, is authentic, he had a mission to deal with abuses in the Church, and wanted to receive the submission of the local chieftains and particularly to ensure the loyalty of the barons who had already come at the invitation of Dermot McMurrough.

His son John had similar objectives when he visited in 1210, but he didn’t help himself by allowing his men to pull the beards of the locals.

In 1316, the king of Scotland, Robert Bruce, came to assist the ill-starred invasion by his brother, Edward, but the next visit of an English king wasn’t until 1394 when Richard II brought an army to deal with rebellious chiefs in Leinster. He returned in 1399 but had to leave prematurely to fight his cousin, Henry Bolingbroke, who had seized the throne.

The Tudor kings stayed away and Ireland was without royalty until James II and William of Orange came in 1689 and 1690 respectively to continue their quarrel here. They were within a mile or two of each other at the Battle of the Boyne; William may have allowed James to escape to France in order to avoid the embarrassment of having his father-in-law as a prisoner.

George IV, in 1821, was the first English monarch to come without an army in tow. Because of a mix-up, or unfavourable winds, his boat landed at Howth, while the lord lieutenant was waiting at Dunleary, as it then was. To make matters worse, he was drunk, or at any rate hung over, after hearing of the death of his estranged wife, Queen Caroline.

During his stay he wore shamrocks in his hat and, according to a contemporary report, was met with “hysterical loyalty”. As he was leaving, Daniel O’Connell presented him with a laurel wreath, and some of the Liberator’s detractors later claimed that he debased himself by wading into the sea to do so.

Before George’s visit, he had agreed to become a patron of the Dublin Society, which accordingly became “Royal” and afterwards, a new bridge over the Liffey became Kings Bridge, while Dunleary became Kingstown until 1922.

Queen Victoria only visited on four occasions and spent just five weeks in Ireland, compared to seven years in Scotland. Her first visit, in 1849, began at the Cove of Cork, which soon became Queenstown, and a big effort was made to shelter her from the evidence of the Famine that still raged. It wasn’t entirely successful, and in a letter to her uncle, King Leopold of the Belgians, she mentioned the poverty she had seen.

On her last visit in 1900, which was mainly a recruitment drive for the army, Maud Gonne attacked her record in a letter to the United Irishman newspaper which was headed “The Famine Queen”. The police seized most of the issue, and more than half a million people cheered her as she made a ceremonial entry into Dublin.

A consequence of her visit was that soldiers in the Irish regiments were permitted to wear the shamrock on St Patrick’s Day.

Her son, Edward VII, returned as king three times and brought his wife Queen Alexandra, but his last visit, in 1907, was marred by the theft of the Irish crown jewels a few days before his arrival. Still, he had a good day at the races in Leopardstown, and fell asleep in his landau on the way back to the city, oblivious to the cheers of the crowds.

King George VI visited Northern Ireland on a number of occasions, and Queen Elizabeth has been there frequently, but the most significant visit of a British royal in the last century was probably the one made by George V in June 1921, when he opened the new Northern Ireland parliament in the City Hall in Belfast. It was his second visit to Ireland as king, and it was certainly different from his coronation visit in 1911 when he was well received in Dublin and enjoyed a rendition of God Save the King by the Artane Boys Band at St Patrick’s College, Maynooth.

In a speech that had been crafted by a number of people including himself and the prime minister of South Africa, Gen Jan Smuts, and which had the approval of the government, the king said he “prayed with a full heart” that “my coming to Ireland today may prove to be the final step towards the end of strife amongst her people, whatever their race or creed”. “In that hope,” he continued, “I appeal to all Irishmen to pause, to stretch out the hand of friendship, forbearance and conciliation, to forgive and forget and to join in making for the land they love a new era of peace, contentment and goodwill.”

When his granddaughter visits, those words will be heard again.

Denis Fahey is retired and is an amateur historian