Sunday 21 January 2018

Kevin Myers: Queen's true glory lies in tiny, everyday duties done for six indefatigable decades

Her father no doubt stood gazing through the rain-lashed windows on that wet dawn in June and wondered if that day his armies and his navy were not sailing to a common ruin. Nine years later, she gazed through the same windows, on to similarly dolorous rainclouds on another wet dawn in June, wondering if the abominable weather was about to ruin the greatest moments of her young life. And last Sunday, 59 years on from that day, she no doubt gazed at yet another wet dawn in June and sighed: sorry God. I'm used to it now.

It is possible to say it now in Ireland, in large part because she has made it so, whereas an opinion such as that follows would once have been greeted with derision and caterwauling: Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith, is truly one of the greatest living human beings. The only rival for our unstinting respect that I can think of is Nelson Mandela. Their merits belong to different orders, of course. He was of humble stock, and by the sheer power of his moral suasion, brought about the downfall of the absurd, toxic and inhuman political system of apartheid. She could not really have come from higher stock, and passively oversaw only the downfall of the empire that her country had created over centuries. How can the two compare?

Well, her true glory was not in greatness, but in smallness: tiny, quotidian duties tirelessly done, unseen by most people, day after day after day, for six indefatigable decades. She did no harm, and said no harm, for all those years. Eleven prime ministers served under her: none were close to her in moral worth, and most of them -- save perhaps the almost invisible Alec Douglas-Hume, and the very visible Margaret Thatcher -- were deeply contemptible people, from that bibulous old windbag Churchill, to the reptile Blair. She listened; she was polite; they left; she sighed, her duty done again.

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