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Should Irish Prime Minister Cowen bow before the Queen?

By John Drennan

To bow, or not to bow: that’s the great question Taoiseach Brian Cowen will face should he still be at the top table if and when the Queen visits the Republic of Ireland.

The prospect of a state visit by the Queen may have been universally welcomed by the major political parties in the south. But before her Majesty has even set foot on the Republic’s soil, the azure skies of reconciliation have been darkened by a dispute between Irish and British experts on etiquette over the most appropriate way to greet the monarch.

It was sparked by a recent appearance on Morning Ireland by Charles Kidd, editor of Debrett's, the top British magazine on matters of etiquette taste and culture.

Kidd noted that while on greeting the queen “the sweeping bows of history are gone”, there is still an appropriate code of behaviour.

Mr Kidd said that for gentlemen the most appropriate behaviour is “a bow from the neck” and that ladies should “bob or curtsey”.

Excessively firm handshakes are discouraged, while there was the hullabaloo when former Australian PM Paul Keating put his arm around the Queen.

However, experts on heraldic and etiquette issues at Ireland's Genealogical Gazette (incorporating the Genie Gazette) were not impressed.

In an attack titled 'Clash of the Harps', they noted that while Mr Kidd obviously believes that “royal etiquette — no matter how anachronistic — travels with the monarch'', they doubted if during the respective visits of the King of Thailand and the Emperor of Japan that British officials “greeted the latter with a bow from the waist and approached the former on their knees''.

“Surely, Mr Kidd is aware neither bowing nor curtseying is appropriate for citizens of a Republic like Ireland or the United States,'' thundered the magazine.

The staunch republicans of The Gazette also tartly noted that “not content with having the citizens of our Republic bowing and curtseying, Mr Kidd advised against firm handshakes with the Queen''.

While the Gazette said the queen would receive “a warm Cead Mile Failte” they also expressed concern that in spite of

Ireland's Declaration of the Republic in 1949 the British Royal Arms still retain the blue shield with the golden harp symbolising Ireland as part of the realm and asked if it was too much to expect the new age of friendship and mutual respect would be “reflected heraldically''.

The appropriate way of greeting royalty has already been the source of a number of controversies involving Irish figures.

It is believed that builder Michael Bailey’s decision to kiss the Queen Mother on the cheek after his horse won at Cheltenham was seen as excessively exuberant.

Though it caused a fuss in the British tabloids, the Queen Mother, who lived through the Blitz, did not appear too upset.

John Bruton was roundly mocked when he claimed that meeting Prince Charles on Irish soil was the happiest day of his life.

It is not, alas, known if Prince Charles felt the same way.

A senior source in Dublin’s Department of Foreign Affairs declined to say if it was drawing up an etiquette handbook to avoid a diplomatic incident.

Belfast Telegraph

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