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.
We in Ireland saw how she discharged that duty, hour by hour, just a year ago. And those of us who had argued for so long that it was merely common sense to have a visit from the head of state from our nearest neighbour finally understood what our political classes had understood through those decades. They feared her impact. They feared her popularity. But once they had accepted that she was coming, oh how they so jealously hoarded the invitations to meet her! They who had once shunned her now coveted her, meanwhile sedulously excluding from all official functions those who had for years sought such a visit.
No surprises then: for our political class is rather good at excluding. In the month of the queen's coronation, in June 1953 alone, this State banned 51 books, one by Jomo Kenyatta, who later became Kenya's first head of state, and an honoured guest of the queen. The British magazine, 'Picture Post' was also banned that month, presumably because its coverage of the coronation was too effusive -- and the ban was almost certainly illegal, because the censorship board could only act upon a complaint from the public, whereas this particular issue was seized upon arrival by Customs. In other words, the political establishment's fear of real popular feeling in the enclosed, elite-intimidated society that was Ireland.
She came to her throne when much of Africa and Asia was ruled by her governors general. Her navy and air force and heavy industries were amongst the most powerful in the world. Sixty years on, she is monarch of a third-rate power that is a far better country than it was then. Though it seems to manufacture almost nothing any more, at least it governs no people that do not choose to be so governed. Her place in the affections of people has been won by six decades of diligent duty, of loyal, of steadfast fidelity to an institution of royalty that has changed as much as has her kingdom in that time. It was a near-run thing that television cameras were even allowed inside Westminster Abbey for her coronation in 1953. Perhaps the royal loo is the only place in Buckingham Palace that these days is forbidden to them.
Even up until recent times, any expression of regard for the queen in this country would have been rewarded with that usual Hibernian instrument of social enforcement, the sneer, that cur-like tribal-sheepdog whose function is to keep the flock in line. Indeed, but for her triumphant visit last year, the sneer might still have some political or social power; but not anymore. For who in Ireland -- no matter their age -- could endure such a closely managed, arduous routine as she did on her visit, and does almost every day of her life, though she now be closer to 100 than to the three score and 10 that is man's natural allotted span? One is now finally free to admire Queen Elizabeth, as I frankly confess I do, without becoming an object of scorn.
Game, set and match, Your Majesty.