"Imagine dear Ireland as if it were a boat. The prospect of its floundering would not be too remote. And as the boat goes under to be lost beyond all hope, From the deck you will hear 'God Save the Queen', From the bridge, 'Long Live the Pope'."
THIS piece of doggerel encapsulates the sectarian divisions that have scarred relations between Ulster Protestants and Irish Catholics ever since the 16th-Century Reformation.
On a global scale, Britain, the foremost Protestant nation through the rabid religiosity of the English and the Scots, mobilised its empire in aggressive opposition to papal power, while Catholic Ireland spawned its own spiritual diaspora by exporting generations of priests and people to the United States, Australia, New Zealand and Canada.
In the perspective of this fire and dungeon history, it is a stunning turnaround that Pope Benedict has selected 'Protestant Britannia' -- now viewed by the Roman Curia as a pagan land -- ahead of 'Catholic Ireland' for an official state visit next month.
Even more remarkably, Pope Benedict will meet his host, Queen Elizabeth, the head of the Anglican Church of England, in Edinburgh, the capital of Presbyterianism, whose chief advocate John Knox's pulpit passion was for regular firebrand denunciations of 'the paip' as the "anti-Christ and man of sin".
That the queen, a constitutional monarch, is meeting the Pontiff in Scotland rather than in her native England may prove to be a stepping stone toward her planned trip across the Irish State to be welcomed by President Mary McAleese.
Although most Scottish Catholics are of Irish descent, the present generation has become assimilated in their Scottish identity.
Breaking down ancient sectarian animosities with their Protestant and Orange brethren is a priority, though orangeism remains strong, and tinges of republicanism rather than true-blue royalism still run in the veins of Scottish Catholics.
The warmth of the reception of Scottish Catholics to the spectacle of Queen Elizabeth welcoming Pope Benedict -- while the Orange Order watches on helplessly -- will be a weather-gauge for the timing of a royal state visit to Ireland.
While the organisers expect a good crowd to attend the papal open-air Mass in Glasgow's Bellahouston Park, the event will be hard put to generate the excitement that greeted Pope John Paul II when he took Scotland by storm in 1982. One newspaper the next day ran as its main headline 'Glasgow belongs to John Paul'.
In 1982, there was a generous allocation of tickets for Catholics in Ireland who wanted to travel to Glasgow for a second viewing of the Polish Pontiff whom they had lionised during his 1979 visit here.
However, this time, a modest allocation of some 2,500 'pilgrim passes' has been allocated to Catholics in Northern Ireland for the more sedate German Pontiff, whose five-year reign has been overshadowed by clerical paedophile scandals.
However, it is expected that once Armagh receives its allocation, tickets from the autonomous Episcopal Conference of Scotland will be distributed as evenly as possible among the 26 dioceses to emphasise the all-Ireland character of the Irish Bishops' Conference.
A different matter may be the English leg of Pope Benedict's four-day visit. England and Wales have their own joint Conference of Bishops, which, though it liaises regularly with its Irish and Scottish counterparts, has assigned tickets only to English and Welsh parishes.
Although the Irish bishops have yet to announce their representatives for attendance on the papal tour of Britain, Donegal bishop Philip Boyce, a Newman scholar, will witness the ceremony marking the beatification by Pope Benedict of Cardinal John Henry at Crofton Park in Birmingham.
In view of the erudite Newman's connection with the Catholic University of Ireland as its first rector in the 19th-Century Dublin of Cardinal Paul Cullen, the present Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin, is a safe bet to attend Blessed Newman's elevation as a theologian whose writings on the role of the laity strongly influenced the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s.
It remains to be seen if the heavy security surrounding the Pontiff will frustrate secularists from carrying out threats to have Pope Benedict arrested to face prosecution from victims of clerical child abuse.
Bishop Philip Tartaglia, who heads the Communications Commission in Scotland, expects "the dying embers" of the child abuse scandal to be "fanned into flames" by the media as the event approaches.
Fraught as the visit will be from the spectres of secularisation in England and sectarianism in Scotland, veteran journalist Bill Heaney predicts that Catholics in Britain will turn out in large numbers to give Pope Benedict as warm a welcome as they did for John Paul in 1982.
The reception accorded Pope Benedict in Britain will be monitored closely by the Irish bishops as a trial run for achieving their ambition to have the German Pontiff in Dublin in 2012 for the International Eucharistic Congress.