Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 23 November 2014

The British monarch in the Republic? I was speechless

The Queen Elizabeth II arrives at the Convention Centre Dublin for an evening of British and Irish music and fashion
The Queen Elizabeth II arrives at the Convention Centre Dublin for an evening of British and Irish music and fashion
The Queen visits the Irish National Stud on May 19, 2011 in Kildare, Ireland.
The Queen visits the Irish National Stud on May 19, 2011 in Kildare, Ireland.
KILDARE, IRELAND - MAY 19: Queen Elizabeth II and Chryss O'Reilly, Chair of the Board of The Irish National Stud, view some of the Studs' resident Stallions at the Irish National Stud, during the third day of the state visit to Ireland, on May 19, 2011 in Kildare, Ireland. The Duke and Queen's visit to Ireland is the first by a monarch since 1911. An unprecedented security operation is taking place with much of the centre of Dublin turning into a car free zone. Republican dissident groups have made it clear they are intent on disrupting proceedings. (Photo by Irish Government - Pool/Getty Images)
A Garda keeps watch as the Queen visits the Irish National Stud on May 19, 2011 in Kildare, Ireland.
Prince Philip the Gaisce pin worn by Gavin Radford,a Bronze and Silver Award holder from St Declan's College, Cabra
Models prepare before a fashion show featuring outfits by British and Irish designers at the Convention Centre Dublin watched by the Queen
Workmen vacuum the red carpet in the Convention Centre Dublin for an evening of British and Irish music and fashion
Models prepare before a fashion show featuring outfits by British and Irish designers at the Convention Centre Dublin watched by the Queen
The Queen and President Mary McAleese listen to live classical music as they arrive at the Convention Centre Dublin for an evening of British and Irish music and fashion on May 19, 2011 in Dublin, Ireland.
The Queen on stage at the National Convention Centre Dublin on May 19, 2011 in Dublin, Ireland.
Prince Philip speaks beside Frances Fitzgerald, Minister for Children and Youth Affairs (L) and Dr Lawrence Crowley, Chairman of Gaisce during a reception for members of Gaisce, the President's Award at Farmleigh House on May 19, 2011 in Dublin, Ireland
The Queen watches a fashion show at the National Convention Centre on May 19, 2011 in Dublin, Ireland.
The Queen watches a fashion show at the National Convention Centre on May 19, 2011 in Dublin, Ireland.
The Queen watches a fashion show at the National Convention Centre on May 19, 2011 in Dublin, Ireland.
Peter and Iris Robinson wait to greet the Queen and Irish President Mary McAleese at a State dinner in Dublin Castle
Iris Robinson with Bertie Ahern (left) and husband Peter Robinson (right)at the State Dinner in honour of the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh, at Dublin Castle.
Queen arrives to visit the Irish National Stud in County Kildare on May 19, 2011 in Kildare, Ireland.
The Queen is escorted by Chryss O'Reilly (2nd L), the Chair of the Board of the Irish National Stud, during a visit to the Irish National Stud in County Kildare on May 19, 2011 in Kildare, Ireland.
The Queen visits the Irish National Stud in County Kildare on May 19, 2011 in Kildare, Ireland.
Irish Taoiseach Enda Kenny meets the Queen during her Irish visit in 2011
Queen Elizabeth II visits the Irish National Stud on May 19, 2011 in Kildare, Ireland.
The Queen greets Iris Robinson, the wife of Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson with Irish President Mary McAleese at the State Banquet in Dublin Castle on May 18, 2011 in Dublin, Ireland.
Queen Elizabeth II toasts with Irish President Mary McAleese and British Prime Minister David Cameron after giving a speech at Dublin Castle on the second day of her State Visit, on May 18, 2011 in Dublin
The Queen and President Mary McAleese arrive for a State Dinner at Dublin Castle, on May 18, 2011 in Dublin, Ireland.
The Queen and President Mary McAleese arrive for a State Dinner at Dublin Castle, on May 18, 2011 in Dublin, Ireland.
The Queen makes a speech as she attends the State Dinner on the second day of her State Visit, at Dublin Castle, on May 18, 2011
The British Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh arrive at Dublin Castle for a State dinner
Irish Taoiseach Enda Kenny talks with Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron at Government buildings where the two held talks prior to attending the state dinner in honour of Queen Elizabeth II
The 8th Royal Hussars lead the procession for King George V and Queen Mary down Grafton Street,Dublin during the Royal Visit in 1911
Protestors march as the Garda form a protective ring around Dublin Castle as the Queen attends a state dinner on May 18, 2011 in Dublin
WINSTON CHURCHILL MEETS QUEEN ELIZABETH II
Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh arrive to attend a State Banquet in Dublin Castle on May 18, 2011 in Dublin
A protester near Dublin Castle ahead of the state dinner in honour of Queen Elizabeth II on the second day of her State Visit to Ireland
Protestors outside Dublin Castle ahead of the state dinner in honour of Queen Elizabeth II on the second day of her State Visit to Ireland
Irish Taoiseach Enda Kenny pictured with Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron at Government buildings where the two held talks prior to attending the state dinner in honour of Queen Elizabeth II
George V with Queen Mary visiting Ireland in 1911, the last reigning monarchs to visit.Queen Victoria visiting Dublin in 1900
Britain's Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh pictured with Irish President Mary McAleese and her husband Dr Martin McAleese at Dublin Castle
George V with Queen Mary visiting Ireland in 1911, the last reigning monarchs to visit.Queen Victoria visiting Dublin in 1900
Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh arrive to attend a State Banquet in Dublin Castle on May 18, 2011 in Dublin, Ireland
President of the Irish Republic Mary McAleese, Queen Elizabeth II and GAA President Christy Cooney at Croke Park, Dublin, during the second day of her State Visit to Ireland.

You know the way it is: you wait forever for a bus to come along and then you get two. Now, I am perhaps the only living Irish person who had never met President McAleese and I am one of the few British-born persons never to meet the Queen.

And then, in a single second yesterday, I met them both.

It's not as if I was prepared for this. It had seemed for a while that I wasn't going to get an invitation to Islandbridge and, when I did, I was assured that I would certainly not be meeting either head of state.

So, at the ceremony's end, I stood in the dappled sunlight, waiting for the president and the Queen to finish the inspection of the memorial books of Ireland's Great War dead.

And then Sean Murphy, of the Royal British Legion, asked me to leave the main body of the gathering and to stand in line on the edge of the assembly area.

Even then, I was unsure of the reason for that: perhaps I would be expected to lay my cloak on the ground in the event of rain.

The president, the Queen and the republican-royal entourage emerged from the book repository and met members of the council of state and, turning at right angles, began to move past the motley throng of which I was a member.

Some of them, for reasons which defy analysis on this most courteous and forgiving of days, were members of the Ulster Defence Association; all muscle, menace and moustache.

I am unsure — even now — what characteristic of mine merited such august company. Either way, the two heads of state lingeringly moved towards the exit, the president shaking the odd outstretched paw and nattering affably, while the Queen performed that inscrutably cheerful grin that she presumably finds comes in handy, doing the same job for 60 years.

The two women were sailing right by when President McAleese suddenly stopped and greeted me.

Contrary to the agreeable fiction of media life in which she was once a distinguished participant — that we all know one another — I had never met her before. Our first time, in other words.

In that same moment, she introduced me to the Queen, who directed the royal grin at me and nodded.

The president told the Queen that I had done a lot of work on the Irish in the two world wars.

This is a guess because, at that particular moment, someone unplugged a swimming pool in my skull and all I could hear was the roaring noise of several million gallons of water sluicing downwards.

I am unclear about what followed next; however, in times of panic, I am inclined to speak Tibetan mixed with Afrikaans.

The two ladies blinked politely. Not having very much idea what I should do next, I believe I turned to the nearest head of state in the cluster around them and croaked, “My president.” This was not some Latinate effusion of loyalty, just cerebral incoherence.

I know now that I should have said, “Madam president,” which I could easily have done had I been given a week or so to practise.

Not to leave the other head of state broken and forlorn at my heartless neglect, I then babbled “Majesty”. The two of then briefly studied me, before apparently deciding that further conversation was unlikely to be productive and moved on. I waited for a moment to see if King Canute or President Abraham Lincoln might next come popping by, but after a suitable wait, it was clear I was clean out of heads of state — for the time being, anyway.

No doubt, if I waited a day or so, another brace might come my way. But what does the president of Peru look like?

It is 33 years since I first walked around Islandbridge, when it was Dublin's official tip-head, where corporation lorries queued to dump the offal of the city's bins.

A huge Traveller encampment covered the rest of the site. Herds of shaggy, piebald ponies grazed on the patches of grass between the stinking detritus, the caravans and the scrawny unwashed children.

The great stones of Lutyens’s memorial were defaced and fallen. The memorial to Ireland's dead could barely have been treated worse had the Taliban been in power.

That era is over. Recrimination belongs to another day. Yesterday, I met two ladies in a lovely park beside the Liffey. And I am happy.

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