Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 1 October 2014

One's historic visit

Healing wounds: The Queen feels that her visit to the Republic later this month, with its carefully considered timing, will be one of the most significant of her reign.

With the Queen making her trip to the Republic in less than two weeks, Lorna Hogg traces the centuries-old bloodlines and friendships linking that country and the Royal family

More than 600,000 people watched William and Kate's wedding on Irish television last week. And, wherever you went in Dublin, the weekend conversation was about the stunning dress, the balcony kiss, the sexy sister, the hideous hats ...

The next big royal occasion will be the Queen's State visit to the Republic from Tuesday May 17 to Friday May 20and newspaper letters pages and radio phone-in shows have for weeks been reflecting the Republic's mixed feelings about the trip.

But one voice that hasn't been heard is that of the Queen herself. What does this 85-year-old grandmother know about Ireland, and Irish people? What does she want to see? Above all, is it just duty, or is she really looking forward to it?

One thing we do know - this State visit comes with sad memories, for both hosts and guests.

On August 27, 1979, Lord Louis Mountbatten - 'Uncle Dickie' to the Royal family - was killed by a Provisional IRA bomb blast in a fishing boat at Mullaghmore, Co Sligo, near to his Irish home, Classiebawn Castle.

His grandson, 14-year-old Nicholas Brabourne, and local boy Paul Maxwell (15) also died immediately. Nicholas's mother, Lady Patricia Brabourne, Mountbatten's elder daughter, was badly injured, as was her husband, Lord Brabourne. Her mother-in-law, the Dowager Lady Brabourne, died later.

The Queen was devastated and angered by the news. Lord Louis was her husband's uncle - the man who had supported and encouraged the romance between Elizabeth and Philip.

Patricia Brabourne was a friend from childhood and had been her scout leader and her lady-in-waiting.

Stoically, the Queen kept her feelings and thoughts to herself. But time heals many wounds, and sources close to the Queen this week said she has long wanted to visit to the Republic. Indeed, she feels this visit, with its carefully considered timing, will be one of the most significant of her reign.

The Queen has for years had close links to Ireland and the Irish through family members, friends and staff, and also her enthusiasm for racing. Naturally, many of her contacts have been with the old Anglo-Irish aristocratic families.

However, in more recent years, she has entertained and met Irish people from all walks of life.

She clearly appreciates many of the classic Irish traits - wit, spirit, good humour, informality, irreverence and the ability to fit in at all levels.

So, just who makes up the Irish connection for the Queen?

Madam President

History was made in 1993, when former Irish President Mary Robinson had tea with the Queen at Buckingham Palace. She became the Republic's first Head of State to meet a British monarch on an official visit. She prepared the ground but President Mary McAleese has been the powerful force behind this visit. Over several years, she has built up a good relationship with the Queen, whom she admires, and has called the State visit 'historic'. The two first met during President McAleese's term as Pro-Vice Chancellor at Queen's University, Belfast, which started in 1994. In November 1998, the new president had her first public meeting with Queen Elizabeth at Ypres, during a Remembrance Service for Irishmen who died in the two World Wars.

President and Queen clearly get on well and have met privately and publicly on several occasions since.

Family

There is Irish blood at the heart of the British monarchy - including the late Diana, Princess of Wales, and Sarah, Duchess of York (the former wife of Prince Andrew and better known as Fergie). Both of these strong-minded, modern women had a major influence on the Royal family and both could claim Irish ancestry. Sarah's mother, born Susie Wright, was connected to the Wingfield family, of Powerscourt, Co Wicklow. As granddaughter of the 8th Viscount Powerscourt, Sarah's mother spent long periods of her childhood there. She learned to love riding out over the magnificent estate, an experience also enjoyed by Fergie when she came there for holidays

Susie was described as having "a touch of the Irish" about her, which attracted polo player Ronald Ferguson. After their marriage he became Prince Philip's polo manager and he and his wife became friends with the Queen and Duke.

Andrew and Fergie played together as children and married in 1986. The marriage lasted 10 years and produced hundreds of headlines - including the most famous in 1992. A newspaper ran a topless poolside picture of her having her toe sucked by an American financier friend. The incident effectively ended her close relationship with the Royals - and the couple announced they were divorcing in 1996.

Fergie's mother Susie remained on good terms with the Royal family, up to her tragic death in a car crash, just after the death of Diana.

One of Susie's girlhood friends was another beauty, the young Frances Roche, described by a contemporary as having "a certain Irish appeal". That allure led to marriage to Diana's father, the future Earl Spencer, and also to a life filled with drama as well as tragedy.

Frances was twice divorced, lost custody of her children and suffered the death of two children, one of whom was Diana. A son John died within 10 hours of his birth on January 12, 1960. In 1967, Frances left Diana's father for Peter Shand Kydd, an heir to a wallpaper fortune whom she had met the year before.

Diana's Irish connection was with the rich and powerful Burke Roche family, with its splendid Co Cork estates. The family was well-known for its strong, independent-minded women. This blood line was passed to Diana through her maternal grandparents, the 4th Baron Fermoy and Ruth, Lady Fermoy. The latter was a Lady-in-Waiting to the Queen Mother.

Whether true or not, it would become popular legend that this formidable pair encouraged the budding relationship between the Prince of Wales and the young Diana Spencer. The Roches were prominent in Cork for almost three centuries. Dominick Roche was mayor in 1609 and MP for Cork in 1639. Following a Catholic rebellion in 1641, they were expelled along with other Catholics of the city.

Other seats of the Roches include Trabolgan in east Cork and Dunderrow, near Kinsale, and Kilpatrick near Ringabella. In 1856 the Right Hon. Edmund Burke-Roche of Trabolgan, east Cork, was elevated to the peerage as Baron Fermoy.

One of the most popular and least stuffy members of the Royal family was Anthony Armstrong-Jones, the celebrated photographer who married the Queen's sister, Princess Margaret, in 1960 and became Lord Snowdon. The couple were famous for their parties and bohemian lifestyle and it was said that he learnt his wild ways as a youth in Ireland. Anthony's mother, after divorcing Ronald Armstrong-Jones, married Michael Parsons, the 6th Earl of Rosse, whose seat was Birr Castle, Co Offaly

Anthony Armstrong-Jones spent many childhood summers at the castle and developed his love of photography there. In 1993, Tony and Margaret's son, Viscount Linley, married another Irish beauty - Serena Harrington, daughter of the then Viscount Petersham, Charles Petersham. Serena spent a lot of her childhood in Ireland. Her grandfather was Limerick bloodstock magnate, the 11th Earl of Harrington - known as 'Bill' Harrington. Serena's mother, the accomplished horsewoman Virginia Freeman Jackson, was from Cork, and after her parents' divorce, Serena split her time between Limerick, London and Monaco.

Racing

It may be the Sport of Kings, yet Queen Elizabeth is a major player. Racing has given her a chance to develop a worldwide network through one of her close personal interests.

Over six feet tall, the elegant and diplomatic Sir Cecil Boyd Rochfort, whose family home was Middleton Park, Co Westmeath, was the Queen's first racing trainer. Boyd Rochfort was Royal trainer from 1943, based at Newmarket, to the Queen's father, King George VI. He continued working with the Queen until retirement in 1968, when he handed his string of horses over to his stepson, the legendary Henry Cecil. The newly knighted Boyd Rochfort settled in Ireland until his death in 1983, aged 97.

Over her long reign, the Queen has owned and raced hundreds of famous racehorses. She is well informed about, and has long wanted to visit, the Magniers and O'Briens at Coolmore Stud. Queen Elizabeth also wants to see Gilltown Stud, where the Aga Khan's horses are stabled.

The Achievers

In the past decades, the Queen has had the opportunity to learn about and meet a wide variety of contemporary Irish achievers. The Grand Slam Irish rugby team was invited to a reception at Hillsborough Castle to celebrate their 2009 win.

In 1986, Bob Geldof, dressed in a formal morning suit, received an Honorary Knighthood, in part for his work on Live Aid. Sir Anthony O'Reilly was knighted in 2001. He became a Knight Bachelor, for services to Ireland in connection with his work with The Ireland Funds, and for 25 years of work towards peace in Northern Ireland.

Sir Terry Wogan has a royal fan. When he received his Knighthood in 2005, the Queen told him that she had heard his breakfast show earlier that morning. Tony 'AP' McCoy, the Grand National winner and legendary jump jockey, had his turn in 2010 when he received an MBE.

In the past century, virtually all Royal visits to Ireland have provoked complaints, criticism and comments about the political aspects, security costs, and the all too often "parlous economic state of our country''. No change there, then. Royal visits were often preceded by forecasts of lack of popular interest.

Yet each time, the people responded with a warm welcome - one Irish tradition Her Majesty can hope will continue.

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