The Queen in Ireland

Victoria was greeted by adoring crowds in Ireland. The sun never set on the Empire, and the Irish blood that paid for much of it never dried. The Irish joined the army in mobs in 1914, both Catholic and Protestant. If the British had acted with decency or humanity, or even common sense, on many occasions, Ireland would have been part of a United Kingdom to this day, with far less suffering and bloodshed all around. They had their chance, and more than their chance. But that is all the past.

Queen Elizabeth has presided over the piece by piece dissolution of a global empire, and these ceremonial occasions, which she is good at, are meant to heal wounds, close chapters, strengthen bonds, and move forward. Ireland’s wounds are the oldest and the worst, but even they can be closed and healed. Ireland and Britain should have a relationship like the USA and Canada, friendly neighbors, trading partners, allies when there is a shared cause, and that is the direction that both countries should move in.

An Irish friend wrote to me about how moving the Queen’s visit has been. It seems that the trip has been a smashing success from the perspective of Irish Americans, from what I can tell, and it seems to be similarly effective back in the Ould Sod.

This is the kind of thing which Elizabeth is perfect for. Only a monarch has the weirdly magical aura needed to pull off an event like this.

Her opening lines to the Irish parliament, in Irish, were a clever stroke, reminiscent of Juan Carlos surprising the Catalonians by speaking in Catalan at the Olympics in Barcelona. These gestures of respect carry massive weight, they take away the offended pride that keeps conflicts going perpetually.

There is a similar healing process going on among Indians whom I know. We all suffered, even the Americans, long, long ago, at the hands of the British. But we also all inherited much of value, including having all been made “cousins” in a globe-spanning network of English speaking people who can do great things for ourselves and the world. And we are mature enough to accept the good without forgetting the bad. An empire built on muskets and bayonets and opium and handcuffs and the lash has given way over a century to a valuable and peaceful and lawful community with a shared language and much shared law and many shared values. The British scattered our Irish ancestors across six continents, but we have risen above all that and succeeded beyond the dreams of those tough and suffering people, who got on with it and built something better for their children, wherever they landed. We can take the best from the past, learn its lessons, and give a great future to the people who come after us.

Truly a great event, and a very important step forward for the Anglosphere.

Victoria was able to travel in Dublin in an open carriage, in 1900, despite the prospect of Fenian bombs or revolvers. Elizabeth could not possibly mix with an Irish crowd without a very high risk of assassination. It has been 100 years ago that a British monarch last visited Ireland. Maybe another 50 years Queen Kate will be able to visit Ireland and go about with some normality, without expecting to be shot or blown to bits. There is still a lot of progress to be made.

22 thoughts on “The Queen in Ireland”

  1. Different places had different experiences. Hong Kong benefitted from an extraordinarily wise government after World War II, run as a complete throwback to 19th Century liberal principles, while socialism was being built at home. Ireland always suffered because of religious differences, and because it was correctly perceived as a base for enemy invasion. It was not just a semi-colony, but it was an occupied country which was a serious and potentially deadly security threat. This made the English particularly harsh in Ireland.

  2. Kate and William will be divorced within five years so no dice on that.

    I think this was outstanding timing. I am guessing that nobody in Ireland would cross the street to meet King Charles. As you said, this is Elizabeth’s wheelhouse. She is literally the perfect queen for the events in Ireland, so prim, proper, and conservative in dress and actions. There was literally no chance this could go wrong, unless someone took a shot at her or blew her up.

  3. I think Kate and William will last. Not willing to bet on it, though. Agreed Elizabeth is perfect for this. Literally no one else could have done it.

  4. Ireland and Britain should have a relationship like the USA and Canada

    You think the Irish should be consumed by hatred of the British, without the British really noticing?

  5. Dan. Ha. OK, loser comes to the winner’s town and pays for dinner and drinks. Who the He’ll knows what will happen? These two seem pretty stable. I hope they make it.

    Bgates, most amusing.

  6. I’ll be sad if I have to.

    It will be bad for the monarchy if they get divorced.

    There are plenty of good places to drown my sorrow in Madison. A pub crawl may be in order, if it happens.

    I hope Elizabeth is still Queen in five years. If she makes it to 2015 she beats Victoria’s record. She’s 85. Her mother lived to be over 100.

  7. The Queen sympathized with the victims of British atrocities, but she offered no apology. That will be hard to swallow for many in this nation that is so conscious of its history.

  8. I also am hoping Elizabeth beats Victoria’s record just because she is the best person for that job we could possibly hope for. I don’t think Charles will even be half as popular as king – I think too many people will never forgive him for the marital issues with Diana. I do think that King William will have a long and fruitful reign, however. Predicted divorce of the century notwithstanding.

  9. Lukas, the Queen was right to not “apologize” for the actions of other people most of whom lived and died before she came along. People who would demand such a bogus apology would not accept it if it were offered anyway. She was also right not to demand an apology for the murder of her uncle, Lord Mountbatten, by the IRA. She struck the right notes and did as much as she could on one trip. Eight centuries of bad blood will not be washed away in one trip. It’s a start.

  10. Speaking as a Roundhead and a descendent of Roundheads and as a Borderer the descendent of Borderers…

    To the English:

    Take advantage of this moment when the asset value of the accursed House of Stuart/Hannover/Saxe-Coburg-Gotha is unnaturally high and sell it and its accoutrements to the Walt Disney Company. Since Disney managements’ legal obligation to enhance shareholder value is greater than its legal obligation to maintain a Protestant succession or ensure that their dramatic leads are true pedigreed descendants of Cerdic of Wessex, William the Bastard, or James VI of Scotland, they can install theme park rides at Balmoral and talking automatons at Windsor Palace without condemnation or risking another War of the Roses. They may even be able to cast new dramatic leads such as Judi Dench or Helen Mirren as “Elizabeth II, Queen of England” or a more plausible actor for the role of “Charles, Prince of Wales” like Rowan Atkinson. If you want to keep a monarchy around, a much more respectable royal house with a much more distinguished pedigree is available right across the North Sea.

    To said accursed house:

    It’s unfortunate that your ancestor Georg III, prince-elector of Hannover and his demon spawn didn’t swing from the gallows at Tyburn but now is the time to cash out while the getting is good. Ask Phillip von Battenberg about the fate of his Romanov cousins or his own house in Greece.

    To the people of the Republic of Ireland:

    To hell or Connaught.

  11. Lexington Green,

    David Cameron apologized on behalf of the British Nation to the loved ones of the Bloody Sunday victims of 1972. Many Irish do not see why the Queen can not do the same for the Croke Park Massacre, for which, even though at the time was denounced by Unionists, Nationalists and even George V, an apology has never come forth.

  12. Apparently there is some protocol about heads of state versus heads of government making those kinds of statements. In other words, Cameron is authorized to do so.

    For what its worth, I don’t think Cameron should have, either. This whole apology for ancient events business is getting out of control.

  13. Joseph, that sort of thing is gradually going on as we speak. Visit Warwick Castle. I have been going there for over 30 years and have gradually watched as it became Disneyland. About five years ago, I asked a guard, or whatever they call them, about what had happened to a historical exhibit that used to be in one of the towers. He didn’t know what I was talking about.

  14. I wouldn’t call 1972 ancient history, but that’s arguing semantics, I guess. And it isn’t like QE2 had a problem apologizing for the ethnic cleansing of Acadians from Nova Scotia (a mere 250 years ago).

  15. Bottom line, the people in both countries seem to want to move on. We can quibble that the queen should have apologized, and then quibble about the wording, then quibble that it was not abject enough, or was really coded to leave something out. There is no way to satisfy that urge.

    The point is to show respect to the Irish, respect their history, respect their identity, respect their suffering, show that Britain sees and treats them as an equal — then get on with it.

    Clinging to all this old bloodiness is a waste of time. Ireland used to be a country that only had a past. So people could afford to sit around and grumble and stir the ashes and keep the hate alive, to stay warm, to have something to do, to have something talk about.

    That is no longer true. Ireland and Britain have very bright futures ahead if they can grab that future.

    The point of all this is to clear the decks and get on with it.

  16. JF, remind me not pick you for conciliatory ceremonial events.

    But the British have a long history of knowing when to fight, when to lie low, when to appease, when to be insanely defiant, and when to make nice and get along. It is all very nuanced.

    As to getting rid of the House of Windsor, fat chance. The Firm is not going anywhere. If you think the wedding raised their stock, wait until about a year from now when there is a royal baby for all the women to fall in love with and coo over.

  17. Ireland may be clinging a bit too much to her past, it’s true. But I rather prefer that to England which is so cheerfully oblivious of her history.

  18. I would rather they both got their houses in order financially and focused on economic opportunities today and tomorrow.

    The past generates no revenue stream. If everyone is prosperous, that in itself heals a lot of wounds and makes people forget their grudges.

  19. Lex:

    What a glorious post. This is what comes of reading history, eh? Perspective. I can’t speak to the Irish part, but….

    Someday the descendent of Lex, living in a free-floating Pacific Ocean free-market colony near, like, Ecuador or something, will write up a history of the English in India and it will mine the written histories of both peoples.

    Gandhi was not a saint. And neither was Churchill. Men, not gods. Heroic in some ways and dreadful and terrible in others.

    Blinders are on all sides. It’s human nature:

    Andrew Roberts, meet

    Madhusree Mukerjee

    (But they’ve argued this point already, haven’t they?)

    I know historians of various sorts argue this stuff all the time. Rewrites and revisions and hot heads of history. Sentimentalists and the rest. That’s why it will take the Lex descendent dispassionately reading both Indian and British accounts and telling us a little something about human nature. Beautiful and horrific all at the same time.

    – Madhu

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