Friday 24 May 2019

The day the British king arrived drunk for his grand tour of Dublin

As Queen Elizabeth prepares for her first visit here, Lorna Hogg looks back at the royals in Ireland

There have been more than a dozen British royal visits to Ireland involving kings and queens, princes and princesses, spanning two world wars, countless European revolutions and frequently violent Anglo-Irish relations.

Now, as Queen Elizabeth II prepares to add her name to the visitors' book, attention has turned to past regal highs and lows including the startling arrival of a drunken King George IV at Howth in Dublin, bearing 15 hogsheads (around 800 gallons) of beer for locals.

Despite predictions of lack of interest, poor crowd numbers and political unrest, Ireland's enthusiasm for royal visits has always been strong, the reception reasonably warm and protests (usually organised by militant republican groups) garnering just a limited audience.

And if previous colourful trips are anything to go by, any trip here by the queen is bound to contain some unexpected highlights.


The stout 59-year-old King George IV, who as the Prince of Pleasure gave his name to the Regency, was a natural party animal. He didn't let the recent death of his estranged queen spoil the party.

Having "abundantly" enjoyed goose pie and Irish whiskey on his way, he claimed on arrival it was the happiest day of his life, and that his heart was Irish. He then schmoozed the enthusiastic crowds -- all the way to the doors of the Vice Regal Lodge in the Phoenix Park.

The straight road from Dublin to Slane was supposedly built to allow a straight run for his highness to see his new lover the Marchioness of Conyngham. The visit was marked by theatre visits, racing, banquets, fireworks and splendid court receptions.

It was then that Dun Laoghaire lost its name, renamed Kingstown until it won its Irish name back in 1921.


Queen Victoria was nicknamed 'The Famine Queen', when she arrived to "celebrate" the official end of the Famine. Angry criticism pointed to starvation and the state of the land.

In a very different era, the pretty 30-year-old Queen, her handsome consort and four pretty children, (including eight-year-old Bertie, the future King Edward VII) received a warm welcome at Cork. Yet another town name was soon hijacked, as Cobh became Queenstown. A seasick party sailed up to the capital, where Dublin put on quite a show. Illuminations and light beams, the military reviews, and receptions drew the crowds, and even critical papers pronounced the visit a success.


Another visit from Queen Victoria and this time she helped to publicise Dargan's International Exhibition in Dublin. It also highlighted Dublin coach-making skills -- the Irish State Coach was made for the queen in 1851, by the coachbuilder Lord Mayor of Dublin. To this day, it is used by Queen Elizabeth at the annual state opening of Parliament.


Eight years later and she was back. Queen Victoria established Killarney in Co Kerry as part of a 'Victorian Grand Tour circuit'. With Prince Albert and three of their children, she spent three nights there. Earlier, Victoria watched her son Bertie marching on parade at the Curragh Camp.

Bertie (20) would soon have other things on his mind. A pretty young Dublin actress called Nellie Clifden was apparently smuggled into the camp for him. Later that year, his father's apparent horror and anger at discovery of the relationship was blamed by Victoria for contributing to the king's death from typhoid.


A name change too far. The now 48-year-old queen was most unamused by the refusal of Dublin Corporation to place a statue of Prince Albert in St Stephen's Green, or re-name it Albert Green. So, Royal visits were taken over by Bertie and his young wife, Alexandra, now Prince and Princess of Wales.

The Danish-born Princess Alexandra quickly won hearts. She gazed at rainsoaked beauty sites, listened to speeches and visited orphanages and schools -- Alexandra College is named for her. She also supported local industry, wearing Irish-made poplin to Punchestown.


Feelings were running high over The Land League and Home Rule Bill. Prince Albert and Princess Alexandra were welcomed in Dublin but in Mallow, Co Cork, there was a near riot as the royal train was due. Hisses, black flags and cries of 'No Prince but Parnell' greeted the party in Cork. Almost 3,000 protesters lined up opposite the departure quay, shaking their fists and cursing as their boat left. "Enthusiastic reception in the city," reported the British press.


Now aged 80, Queen Victoria paid her last visit to Dublin, on what was nicknamed the "Boer War Tour" as army recruitment was down and new blood to fight the war in South Africa was needed. The Catholic hierarchy opposed the visit. However, the public was delighted by a general holiday, and trams were "crammed to suffocation" according to reports.

From April 4 to 26, Victoria, two daughters plus grandchildren visited schools and hospitals. The spectacular Phoenix Park military review on The Fifteen Acres was watched by 200,000 people, and the park deer added their own march past.


No official welcome from Dublin Corporation for Bertie, now the portly 62-year-old King Edward VII. However, he had many others. Loyal representatives from 1,200 jarveys sent representatives. Nationalist Maud Gonne (whose beauty the king reputedly greatly admired) enraged neighbours by hanging out black petticoats from her Rathgar home -- and barricaded herself in when the police called.

Pope Leo XIII died on the day of the king's arrival. Ever the diplomat, Edward immediately lowered his flag and extended condolences to Irish clergy, which won much support. King Edward and Queen Alexandra did things in style, with reviews, glittering receptions and a locally made carriage for the royal train. The royal motor car however, was less reliable. It broke down in the wilds of Connemara, where the king and queen were meeting and greeting locals.


On a private visit, the king and queen stayed in Kilkenny Castle, where one of Ireland's earliest en suite bathrooms was installed for him. They travelled on to Waterford by rail. Between trains, they were entertained by the Lord Mayor. A five-course lunch of local produce in the City Hall was followed by the Waterford Show. The gourmet king was so impressed by the hospitality that he unexpectedly knighted the Lord Mayor on the railway platform.


On his last visit, the king opened the Industrial Exhibition in Dublin's Herbert Park. However, the recent and still unsolved theft of the Irish Crown Jewels overshadowed celebrations. It was a mystery worthy of Inspectors Morse or Poirot, but the regalia loving King could only snap -- "I don't want theories -- I want my jewels''.


The last visit by a king or queen. King George and Queen Mary, with two of their children, Princess Mary and the future 'Abdication King', Edward VIII, then 16, paid a short Coronation visit in 1911. The usual mix of receptions, racing and visits drew the crowds. However, it was the end of an era. For 84 years, any royal visits to the Republic were private. In 1961 and 1965 Princess Margaret and Lord Snowdon stayed with his relatives at Birr Castle.


Prince Charles, on his first visit, claimed that he had long wanted to see Ireland. He dodged eggs, saw the Book of Kells and was told by one enthusiastic onlooker that he needed a hug. He dined with the great and the good at Dublin Castle, visited an inner city resource centre in Pearse Street, fished at Delphi Lodge in Co Mayo -- and was asked when his mother was coming over.


The Prince returned on a whistle-stop tour, lunching with President Mary McAleese and visiting a centre for drug users, a respite care centre and a centre for the elderly. He also knighted Daniel O'Donnell, visited Glencree Peace and Reconciliation Centre -- and was asked when his sons were coming over.


They haven't made it yet -- but The Duke of Edinburgh, Princess Royal, Princes Andrew and Edward and the Countess of Wessex have all visited Ireland during the past decade, often in connection charities or sport. Time at last for the main event?

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