Thursday 14 November 2019

Nicola Anderson: Every detail choreographed to maximise the symbolic effect

Monarch determined to ensure the call of history would overcome obstacles

Nicola Anderson

Nicola Anderson

EVEN before she ever set foot on Irish soil, Queen Elizabeth had already made a powerfully symbolic gesture by choosing to fly into an aerodrome named for Roger Casement, the patriot -- and British consul -- who was executed by the British for treason in 1916.

The fact that she chose, of her own accord, to wear green was a touching gesture that merely compounded the fact that this visit was more than extraordinary.

As an echoing gesture of goodwill of our own, a small union jack -- just a small one -- fluttered from the leader of the Army motorcycle cavalcade waiting on the tarmac to escort the queen on the start of her state visit.

She is the first British monarch to visit this country since her grandfather George V in 1911, so this was always going to be a day of remarkable happenings and fresh starts in the Anglo-Irish dynamic.

This was a visit that her mother had resolutely vowed to make -- even once threatening to have her plane 'break down' here, so that we couldn't but allow her to come.

But even the Queen Mother's steely determination to see the Dublin Horse Show failed her and instead, it was her daughter, at the venerable age of 85, who became the first British monarch to arrive in Ireland in a century.

And so although the words "historic" and "symbolic" were being bandied about to a tiresome degree yesterday, it was impossible to find others that sufficed as well.

A mood of heightened excitement and nervous tension seemed to permeate the all-but-deserted streets of Dublin yesterday and at Casement aerodrome in Baldonnel, officials sighed with frustration as a dense cloak of drizzle descended from the skies.

From behind portacabins and on the platform of the control tower, armed members of the Defence Forces stood to fierce attention.

This was not "the official welcome," department of Foreign Affairs officials stressed yesterday, warning that there would be no words and no opportunities for interview with anyone involved in this event.

The best we could do was to merely stand and observe.

The schedule was that the queen and prince would leave the RAF Northholt airfield in London on the 45-minute flight across the Irish Sea, swooping in over Killiney in what should have been a spectacular vista -- if it hadn't been for the weather.

But with the drizzle shifting at last, the drone of a jet plane came in from the left. At three minutes to noon, this highly significant aircraft materialised in the sky, landing on runway 29, before it disappeared from view behind some outbuildings.

Several impatient and puzzling moments later it re-emerged, this time with the royal standard fluttering from the cockpit window.

A lark piped resolutely overhead, piercing even the sound of the jet engine, and the Air Corps began the guard of honour along the borders of the red carpet as the steps of the jet descended.

And then, there she was -- in a coat of green described by palace aides as 'jade' but that was almost certainly of a more defiantly 'Irish' hue than that.

As she stiffly disembarked, taking her time on the steep steps, it was a forceful reminder of her own age. And her decision to come seemed all the more characteristic of her steely determination that history should overcome mere human obstacles.

Disembarking, she was followed by the Duke of Edinburgh and the couple were welcomed to Ireland by the British Ambassador to Ireland, Julian King, his wife Lotte Knudsen and the Chief of Protocol, Kathleen White.

Beaming brightly, the queen shook hands with Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore and his wife Carol, both looking fit to burst with pride.

Also greeting the party was HE Bobby McDonagh, Ambassador of Ireland to Britain, and his wife, Mary McDonagh. Major General Dave Ashe, Deputy Chief of Staff of the Defence Forces, and Brigadier General Paul Fry, the General Officer Commanding of the Air Corps.

Waiting at the foot of the red carpet was little Rachel Fox (8) from St Anne's School in Shankill, Dublin -- one of the Tanaiste's own constituents -- bearing a cream-coloured posy of peonies, avalanche roses, bear grass and lisianthus.

Dressed in party pink with white tights and a white cardigan, Rachel shyly offered the flowers and received a gracious smile in return.

The officer in charge of the Escort of Honour, Captain Laura Keane, then approached the queen, saluted and invited her to accept the Escort of Honour, in line with the stiff military protocol at play.

The queen and the prince climbed into a Range Rover, which was again flying the royal standard, and were whisked off at considerable speed through the suburbs and streets of the capital.

"Are the streets always so quiet?" asked a member of Buckingham Palace press office on the media bus back to Dublin Castle, at the sight of an apparently slumbering city.

His disquiet on being assured that this was not always the case was quite apparent.

Normally, the palace doesn't like disruption and tells the local police that they do not want any streets closed, he revealed.

His face fell as he realised that relations are not quite at that stage yet.

Some day, perhaps.

Irish Independent

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