SF mayor takes the hand of royalty
A most surprising piece of history was made at the Rock of Cashel yesterday, reports Barry Duggan
ON the final day of her visit, Queen Elizabeth found out yesterday that there is a vast and diverse country beyond the pale. The word 'historic' has been repeated throughout the week, but that description could not have been more apt yesterday after she was greeted by an elected Sinn Fein politician in Tipperary.
Waiting to meet her and shake her hand at the Rock of Cashel -- a monument that symbolises the country's heritage and history -- was the Sinn Fein Mayor of Cashel, Michael Browne.
Introduced to each other by Labour TD Alan Kelly, it is understood that the brief encounter in the Vicars Choral area is the first time the head of state of the United Kingdom has met with a member of the Sinn Fein party. Mr Browne -- known locally as 'Mickey' -- shook hands and spoke with both the queen and Prince Philip before she departed Cashel.
During the visit a small Sinn Fein protest -- led by Mr Browne's brother, Martin Browne -- was held in the town.
"I met the two of them. How could you not shake hands with an 85-year-old woman? I said welcome to Cashel your majesty and I hope you enjoy your stay in Co Tipperary -- no more, no less," Mr Browne said.
He also explained the significance of the emblems on his mayoral chain to the prince. One can assume they did not realise whom Mr Browne was, but all gathered in the area did.
"I thought Michael behaved in a very decent manner. It was a very nice moment," Mr Kelly said afterwards.
Earlier, as the assembled guests waited for the queen's arrival, the rain clouds emptied over Cashel. However, on a day of warm greetings even the elements played their part with the clouds clearing as her helicopter came into view.
The looming Rock of Cashel overlooks the entire surrounding region, but it is currently scarred by large scaffolding, which is in place for conservation work at the oldest section -- Cormac's Chapel.
However, this did not hinder the queen as she stopped several times to enjoy the monument.
Conservation architect Aighleann O'Shaughnessy pointed the queen and prince towards the most treasured architectural decorations in the country. With her hands clasped together, she nodded in approval as the history of the building was relayed to her. Travelling monks painted some of the walls in the 14th and 16th centuries and the guests were shown the intricate work, which is under conservation. "It must have taken a lot of imagination to design that," Prince Philip exclaimed.
The imagination of the 20 students of Cashel Community School Choir was running riot at this stage as they patiently waited to perform.
When they did, the song chosen was entirely apt and the lilting words of 'May The Road Rise to Meet You' filled the air as the queen caught glances from several smiling students.
Then it was onwards to view St Patrick's Crozier and the Cashel Bell, while the singers gushed with enthusiasm.
Amy Gleeson (18), of Rosegreen, Cashel, said it was the best thing she or her friends had ever done. "We were all waiting for her and she came in and we just gasped. My class was never, ever, so quiet. We were all staring, it was brilliant, the best ever," she said.
All the time, security was ever present with stern-faced garda officers looking on from various overhead vantage points, with rooks and crows keeping them company.
Dr Eugene Keane, of the Office of Public Works, said the queen was particularly interested in the association of St Patrick with the 'Rock' and the conversion of Oengus by St Patrick in the Fifth Century.
The queen was told how, while performing the baptism, the pointed end of St Patrick's crozier pierced the foot of Oengus, who believing it to be part of the ceremony, suffered in silence.
None remained silent yesterday and Dr Keane said a new history had been born.
"It was a brilliant, magnificent day for Cashel that will live for decades," he said.
And just when all thought no further history could be created, it was -- by the visiting queen and the Sinn Fein Mayor of Cashel.