Meghan & Me: Irish royalists come out of the closet
Royal fans in Ireland have always been attracted to the pageantry and gossip. And today they will celebrate without inhibition, writes Kim Bielenberg
It’s enough to make a die-hard republican weep into their “Tiocfaidh ár lá” tea towel. Michelle Dunican and her friends in Abbeyleix are ready to celebrate today as Prince Harry marries Meghan Markle in St George’s Chapel in the grounds of Windsor Castle.
Michelle has been a royal superfan since she was a teenager reading books about Princess Diana — and today the Laois woman and her friends will dress up as if they are going to the wedding.
“My friends are coming over to watch it,” says the admirer of all things monarchical. “We will have Prosecco and wear fascinators as we watch the wedding on television.”
There’s nothing new in fascination with the British royal family among a significant section of the Irish public.
In days of yore, crowds of Dubliners used to welcome royal visitors by waving little union jacks — and as a result, the denizens of our capital city were dubbed “Jackeens”.
For many decades after independence, an ardent desire to ogle tiaras, gold carriages and to follow the foibles of pampered toffs was kept under wraps.
But now, thousands of our home-bred fans are happy to celebrate the British royal family without inhibition. And they have certainly leapt out of the closet since Queen Elizabeth visited in 2011.
While Michelle Dunican and her friends will uncork the bubbly and gaze admiringly at the unfolding events as if they were part of the whole knees-up, other royal admirers will get together for special events across the country.
A screening of the wedding in the Whale theatre in Greystones, Co Wicklow — where royal revellers will knock back Buck’s fizz and eat wedding cake — is a sell-out. The theatre will be packed to the rafters.
Complaints over coverage
In the House Hotel in Galway, they are hosting a Harry and Meghan-themed traditional afternoon tea for their special screening. They will serve their signature champagne cocktail, the Duchess, in deference to Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall.
There have inevitably been complaints from some quarters about the screening of the wedding on RTÉ.
Our national broadcaster is urging viewers to “get your fancy hats ready and tune into RTÉ1” as Maura Derrane, Evelyn O’Rourke and Darren Kennedy regale us with their pearls of wisdom — and remark how “radiant” Meghan is looking on her special day. Sinn Féin Fingal councillor Paul Donnelly described the RTÉ coverage as “a disgraceful waste of taxpayers’ money,” but it was noteworthy that the complaint has come from a fairly junior Sinn Féin politician. Nobody would be surprised if Mary Lou sneaked a look at the Meghan and Harry show.
Michelle Dunican has been struck by the enthusiasm with which the public has greeted members of the royal family coming to Ireland in recent years.
“When I went to Kilkenny last year to see Charles and Camilla on their visit there, the crowds were huge. It was like being at a royal event in England.”
Michelle has met numerous members of the royal family since she developed a fascination with Princess Diana.
At the age of 18, she moved to England to work as a nurse, and followed Princess Diana to almost 40 official events.
The Laois nurse was able to find out where members of the royal family were appearing by reading their list of engagements in Majesty Magazine, and in the Court Circular in The Times.
She has collected royal cups, plates, thimbles, books and DVDs as well as taking numerous photos of the royals at public events. “I believe the queen is fabulous and fantastic — she has a great sense of duty.”
RTÉ and TV3 can expect healthy viewing figures when the wedding is shown today.
A recent Amárach poll showed that, just over a third (34pc) of the population said they will be paying attention to the wedding.
This is not the first time that a British royal wedding will be shown live on RTÉ.
Back in 1981, RTÉ screened the wedding of Prince Charles and Diana, with live coverage continuing for over four hours.
As the Evening Herald reported, there was enthusiasm for the event behind closed doors back then: “Housewives throughout the country abandoned their chores and postponed the shopping while they relaxed in front of the TV sets.
“And husbands who normally have their lunches at home were told either to eat in town or to make do with a cold meal.”
During Prince William’s 2011 marriage to Kate Middleton, which was also screened on RTÉ, Maeve Binchy noticed that the shops in her Dalkey neighbourhood were empty during the wedding coverage.
The writer said at the time: “There were many households where ladies gathered, each wearing a hat and carrying a bottle.”
According to Maeve, it was not a question of wanting to be English, nothing to do with losing our identity, or changing allegiance. It was all about watching a big, glittery show — a well choreographed parade.
For the Irish watcher, it may not be down to a deep-seated belief in the divine right of kings and queens — but curiosity about whether one of Meghan’s cousins does a runner, or if Princess Eugenie turns up with a hat that looks like an upturned crow’s nest that has fallen into a pot of jam.
Mary Kenny, author of the book Crown and Shamrock, has observed the ebb and flow of public celebration of royal events in Ireland over the decades.
When Queen Elizabeth was crowned in 1953, some Irish cinemas wanted to show a Pathé news film of the coronation. But this was stopped when they received bomb threats.
Mary Kenny says the coronation film was shown discreetly in Protestant Halls. “My aunt and uncle, who were Catholic, saw it in the Methodist Hall in Sandymount, but everybody was sworn to secrecy.”
The public taboo and the fact that we had just become a republic did not mean that the fascination with royalty had vanished. There was still a hankering for the kind of big ceremonial events that kings, queens, princes and princesses provide.
It is not just down to the glittering tiaras, silver swords, gold carriages and shining horses trotting down the Mall.
For most of the past century, from a safe distance, the royal family has offered an endless stream of gossip — sadly lacking in our own powers-that-be.
We have never heard tales of relatives of presidents having a minion to squeeze out their toothpaste, or running off and having affairs on the Riviera.
As early as the 1930s, people in Ireland were hungry for gossip about the abdication of King Edward VIII — and his relationship with a divorced American, Wallis Simpson.
Mary Kenny says that with the arrival of Princess Diana, the royals moved into a whole new sphere of celebrity.
For Irish followers of royal romps and frivolities, the never-ending soap opera seemed to diminish in appeal with the death of Diana, but it has been revived with the emergence of the “fab four” — William, Kate, Harry and Meghan.
Meghan’s mixed-race background as a capable “career woman” with a touch of Hollywood glitz, along with the portrayal in the press of the story of one “flaky family” hooking up with another, will only feed the Irish fascination further in the coming years.
I even heard it suggested this week from an avid Irish royal watcher that Meghan will divorce Harry in a relatively short time, then return to the United States, and run for President.
Don’t rule it out. If Donald Trump was elected, the prospect of President Markle is not too far-fetched.