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Never fear, your majesty, we are royalists at heart

IT would seem churlish not to call her simply The Queen, and pedantic to insist that she must be the Queen of someplace, and that if one does not say where it invites confusion with other royal ladies -- the Queen of Spain perhaps, the Queen of the Belgians, or even the Queen of Sheba.

Besides, the fact that the populace as a whole including (which is regrettable) officialdom has decided that she and no other is The Queen, actually proves a point I will come to later on. Anyway, wherever she is Queen of she will be greeted in those places where people are allowed to get near her with immense zest, curiosity and enthusiasm.

This will be interpreted by a small handful of people as nostalgia for the royal connection and the wish that it could be resumed. They will be wrong. It will be a manifestation of something much more modern than that and much more indicative of where we're at.

The Irish, or at least the Southern preponderantly Catholic Irish, have, or at least for a long time had deep royalist instincts. It is one of history's most ironic of outcomes that they should have become the republicans of this island while the Northern Protestants who are basically Calvinist should have been forced to adopt the royalist position.

Presbyterian ministers still wear the Geneva bands in token of their origin in Calvinism's native city, one of the first republics of modern Europe. From their very beginnings Calvinism and republicanism have gone hand in hand. Wherever Calvinism went republics sprang up like tents to accommodate and shelter the preachers. Apart from the theological justifications which were advanced it was natural enough that a religion which set such prime store by thrift, industry, sobriety, responsibility and the individual conscience should view ne'er-do-wells like monarchs and their hangers-on with disfavour. As soon as they obtained power the Calvinist and Low Church elements in England were not loth to chop off the head of Charles I. A century and a half before the French Revolution they proclaimed that it was not only possible to live without a king but a divine command that one should do so.

The king's head they put on the block was that of an obstinate self-willed man who belonged to one of the most worthless and trouble-making royal lines in Europe. Yet it was this very dynasty that the Catholic Irish took to their hearts and kept there even after all chance of its restoration had been swept away at the Battle of Culloden. The poets continued to pour forth their love for it in the shape of innumerable aislings. Eoghan Rua O Suilleabhain was born three years after Culloden and died three years before the French Revolution, yet he wrote a famous poem in which a beautiful but sorrowful maiden when questioned reveals that she is Erin and that the reason for her distress is that she is in mourning for her true mate who is exiled beyond the seas. Throughout most of Eoghan Rua's short lifetime her true mate, Prince Charles Edward Stuart -- 'bonny Prince Charlie' -- was hitting the bottle hard and having alcoholic nightmares in Padua where he lived out his disappointed days on his papal pension. He had never set foot in Ireland, and he had cynically destroyed the Gaelic civilisation of the Scottish Highlands in a desperate bid for the Scottish throne.

But no matter, the poets loved him. And long after Eoghan Rua had succumbed to the blow which Colonel Daniel Cronin's exasperated servant dealt him with the alehouse tongs, long after the Stuart dynasty and all hope of its restoration had vanished from history, and after the French Revolution had come and gone, they continued to express their monarchical principles and sentiments. Thomas Moore may have been the Republican Robert Emmet's friend but his most vivid imaginings were imbued with the splendour of Tara's halls and the magnanimous poetry-loving warrior princes who had presided there.

WB Yeats too had strong if wholly unfocussed monarchical leanings. But the poets were not alone in cherishing such. As late as 1911 the supposedly hard-headed Arthur Griffith canvassed the importation of a German princeling who would be elevated to a national throne as similar princelings had been in the emergent countries of the Balkans. Failing that he thought the Irish and British should share a monarch as the Hungarians and Austrians were sharing one with apparent success. There was said to be a monarchist plot among Free State officers in the Twenties.

But, with the exception of Griffith, the only dynasty none of these royalists, poetic or political, had time for was the Hanoverian, which began with George I and from which the present Queen, through Queen Victoria, descends. It seemed to them to be prosaic, Germanic and bourgeois. To them some degree of romance necessarily attached to the idea of royalty.

Well, we have lived beyond romance now, though the harp that once through Tara's halls may still mourn its passing. When the Queen steps on Irish soil she will step not as the representative of some romantic royal line or some lost cause but as the quintessential representative of two specifically modern things. These are celebrity and the real-life soap opera, the latter played out daily before a gigantic audience in newspapers and other media with dialogue and even states of mind supplied by "royal watchers" who understand the part and how it should be developed, coherently and in character over a period of time through various vicissitudes and triumphs.

Now, I am not suggesting that the Queen or even her advisers actively sought that this should be the case. Neither am I claiming that the complexities and depths of character which she as a human being undoubtedly possesses are deliberately ironed out or constrained by her to fit within the necessarily simple limitations of a soap-opera role. The Queen is doubtless up to a point an interesting woman and she has had up to a point at least an interesting life, even though the constitutional role of the monarchy has now been reduced to almost complete insignificance.

But no other monarch has ever been followed by the cameras and reporters for so long with such apparent intimacy. From the days when she was one of 'the little princesses' until now when time and experience have etched deep lines into that once cheerful face we have been allowed, even encouraged to contemplate every expression. And what we could not deduce from the image the commentators have readily supplied. "The Queen deeply disapproved", "The Queen was furious", "The Queen was determined that . . ."

Naturally very many of us will want to see this person in fact instead of on camera but the idea that all this will herald "a new more cordial epoch in Anglo-Irish relations" is nonsense. There has never so long as I can remember been any widespread and deep anti-English feeling in the Irish psyche, except for a short period of time and as a result of some specific occurrence. Indeed, it says a great deal for us as well as something for our neighbour that we should have emerged from so much friction, conflict, and misunderstanding with such cordiality and affection for each other. Long may it continue. But that the Queen's visit and the popular response to her coming will add anything significant politically or otherwise to it I very much doubt.

Sunday Independent