Saturday 24 March 2018

A proud tradition of mutual affection

Threats meant that the only way to watch Queen Elizabeth's coronation was at private parties, writes Ulick O'Connor

IN June 1953, I was in a drawing room in Foxrock watching Queen Elizabeth's coronation on television. There were about 50 other people present in the room.

The reason for this bizarre situation was that threats had gone out throughout Dublin against cinemas who were to have shown the ceremony. So the only way you could see it was on television.

My friend who brought me had a good deal of influence as he was the uncle of one of the Ladies-in-Waiting. He was the Earl of Wicklow, a fine figure in the pubs, and known to his friends there as Liam Wicklow. He had had a few scoops before his arrival in the Foxrock mansion so finding his seat took a certain amount of give and take before he finally felt himself comfortable. We were almost like recidivists in the Penal days, celebrating our rite outside the law.

The irony of this event at the particular time was that the most recent British sovereigns had been very much on our side while their politicians had treated us as second rate citizens. Edward VII, for instance, had shown such generosity to Ireland that the Northern Protestants christened him 'Papish Ned'. Sir Shane Leslie, a friend of mine from Monaghan close to the Royal Family, explained to me that the King had a deep love of Ireland. "One of the reasons is because he felt free here. I know he associated the Curragh with his first days of soldiering away from the constant watch imposed on him by his mother the Queen who didn't approve of his female company."

But it was more than just this. Edward was in favour of Home Rule and that's all the Irish wanted at that time to make them happy. An example of how much Edward had become a pop figure was seen when he visited Maynooth College and the staff lowered the Union Jack and replaced it with the King's racing colours. Much to his delight, they had rooms decorated with the names of his recent winners.

His son George V inherited the royal affection for Ireland. He was an extraordinary man, the rifle shooting champion of England and a sturdy controversialist. He spoke his mind to politicians, civil servants and policemen. One Dublin Castle mandarin, Mark Sturgis, recalls how in May 1920 he heard the King "was mightily displeased with us and had recently spent a whole lunch expressing his hatred of the Black and Tans". If they weren't taken out of Ireland, he implied that he would consider abdicating his throne.

George V was king right through the Twenties when the most extraordinary changes took place in the Commonwealth, including the introduction of the Statute of Westminster with its wide reaching powers on the colonies, as the Empire evolved into self governing states.

George V got on particularly well with the Irish High Commissioner in London, John Dulanty, and through him used to send personal messages to his leader. "Could you convey to Mr de Valera a personal message from myself? Will you tell him from me not to make so many promises? They become so horribly difficult to carry out."

There has been argument that the concessions we won under the External Relations Act were not compatible with republican status. Nonsense! India a few years later declared itself a republic and remained in the Commonwealth.

This is why, in my view, we can hail the Queen's visit with enthusiasm -- without feeling that we are being disloyal to those who fought in the distant days to get old Ireland free.

Sunday Independent

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