Lise Hand: Lottery winners hit jackpot with meet and greet
Published 18/05/2011 | 05:00
WHILE the royal couple were inside the beautiful Old Library in Trinity College inspecting the Book of Kells, a row of barriers magically materialised along the walkway outside. And then within a couple of minutes a crowd of over 250 people swarmed in behind them.
For after a day of travelling within the Royal Bubble -- the highly secure cordon which cocoons the queen on every step of this four-day visit -- this was the first chance that a group of citizens had to get within hand-shaking distance of the royal personage.
Arrayed along the barriers were undergraduates, post-graduates, lecturers and various staff. One woman, Orla McCarthy, had even got all gussied up in an Ascot-style outfit of gold coat and wide-brimmed black chapeau.
And they had a bit of a wait, for there was also a bit of an epic crowd inside the library too, and there was a heck of a lot of hand-shaking going on.
This was the queen and Prince Philip's last engagement of their first day, coming after lunch at Aras an Uachtarain and the solemn, symbolic laying of the wreath at the Garden of Remembrance.
So perhaps it was a bit of a relief to play tourist for a while, and nip into Trinity for a squint at the Book of Kells. It was the first of several gigs designed to swell the hearts of Bord Failte by highlighting some of the country's must-see treasures, and chief among them is the venerable manuscript which dates back to about 800AD and which attracts over 500,000 visitors a year (although a shameful number of Dubs have never clapped eyes on the Buke).
As the queen's black Range Rover Vogue pulled up just a few minutes behind schedule at 3.55pm, a bit of a cheer rose from a small group of students crammed into a far corner past the cordon, and they were rewarded with a black-gloved wave from the monarch as she emerged from the car.
Still clad in the cream frock-coat and hat that she had worn in the Garden of Remembrance, she and her husband were met at the door by the Provost of Trinity, Dr John Hegarty, and escorted inside the library where they were greeted by former President Mary Robinson, who is chancellor of the university, and also Education Minister Ruairi Quinn.
There were photos taken with a facsimile of the Book of Kells -- the original is too fragile to expose to flash photography -- before they were taken to see the real McCoy, with two pages open for inspection-- one from the Gospel of St Luke and another from St John's Gospel. And there was even a bit of her family history to have a look at -- the Royal Charter of Queen Elizabeth I 'incorporating' Trinity College in March 1591/2.
The library's Long Room isn't called that just for the craic -- it's 195-feet long. And yesterday afternoon, besides 200,000 books, it also appeared to contain half the population of the college.
But the queen got stuck in, enthusiastically shaking hands with boffins and bright sparks from the various faculties.
Then it was out into the fresh air, and as she and Philip materialised through the door, the crowd behind the barriers broke into loud applause. There were no protesters here -- as with every aspect of this visit, nothing had been left to chance. A lottery had been held to pick the gang to greet the queen, and then the 250 chosen ones were vetted by the security chaps. Also, everyone living on campus had to vacate their digs at 9am yesterday to allow inspections.
The queen was presented with a bouquet of flowers from the Botanic Gardens by student Rebecca Kilkelly, a final year French and sociology student. And in a classic example of the Irish six degrees of separation, Rebecca's great-grandmother presented a bouquet of flowers to Queen Victoria when she visited Loreto Abbey, Rathfarnham in 1901.
And it was a most jolly atmosphere -- the pair were applauded as they both made their way slowly along the barricade, stopping every now and then to chat to people. And they were both very relaxed -- Prince Philip in particular enjoyed quite a few chats with female students.
Afterwards the selfsame lassies were fair buzzing. "It was unbelievable," said Rebecca. "I'd only known for about two weeks that I'd be presenting the bouquet," she said.
In the meantime Philip was having a grand old chinwag with a striking-looking student in a floral dress. "He asked us if we were all students and if we got to live on campus," said Emma Kearney. "Then he said, 'You're Irish? You don't sound like natives'. I told him we were Irish through-and-through," she explained. Natives, eh? Tut-tut and begorrah -- perhaps Philip prepared for his trip by watching 'The Quiet Man'.
But Emma was charmed by him. "He seemed to be quite a character, and eager to have a bit of banter," she explained cheerfully. In fact, the Duke did seem more at ease shooting the breeze with the locals than he did touring the library.
Education officer Jen Fox had a bit of advice for the queen when she stopped to chat. "I asked her to make sure and have an Irish cup of tea," she said.
And in fairness, Queen Elizabeth deserved to put the royal piggies up with a big mug of tay last night. Day One of the visit is over, and she hasn't put a foot wrong, from her arrival in a statement outfit of green, to the gracious wreath-laying ceremony to her friendly stroll in Trinity.
So far her actions have spoken louder than words -- but tonight at Dublin Castle, it will be her words that will take centre stage.