| 5.4°C Belfast

Duke and Duchess of Cambridge's trip to Irish Republic 'conscious effort' to build on Queen's historic state visit in 2011

With the Duke and Duchess of Sussex quitting The Firm, Claire O'Boyle asks leading royal-watchers why Ireland matters so much to William and Kate


Royal assets: the Queen with the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge

Royal assets: the Queen with the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge

Getty Images

Kate’s visit to the Ark Open Farm in Newtownards earlier this month

Kate’s visit to the Ark Open Farm in Newtownards earlier this month


The royal couple in Northern Ireland in 2019

The royal couple in Northern Ireland in 2019

Getty Images

Emily Nash

Emily Nash

Robert Jobson

Robert Jobson

The Queen and Duke of Edinburgh’s visit to the Guinness Storehouse in 2011 in Dublin

The Queen and Duke of Edinburgh’s visit to the Guinness Storehouse in 2011 in Dublin

Getty Images

An historic handshake with the then Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland Martin McGuinness, watched by First Minister Peter Robinson in Belfast in 2012

An historic handshake with the then Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland Martin McGuinness, watched by First Minister Peter Robinson in Belfast in 2012

Getty Images

Royal assets: the Queen with the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge

It's been a turbulent few months for the royal family. First, came Prince Andrew's car-crash BBC Newsnight interview in November, before the almighty Megxit Crisis threw the royals into chaos last month. But, as the drama rolls on, so, too, does the crucial business of the monarchy. And front and centre, presenting the positive face of The Firm to the country and the world, are the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.

Next week, the much-loved pair will arrive in Ireland for a three-day tour, visiting Dublin as well as counties Meath, Kildare and Galway in a trip designed to highlight the strong links between Britain and its closest neighbour. The couple are said to be keen to build a "lasting friendship with the Irish people".

Nine years on from the Queen's historic trip to the Republic, which saw the monarch speaking Irish and visiting Dublin's Guinness brewery, next week's visit has been billed by Kensington Palace as an opportunity to "focus on the relationship between the two countries and build on the theme of remembrance and reconciliation".

Which, according to Emily Nash, royal editor at Hello! magazine, will be a vital piece of work for the Cambridges.

"Since the Queen's visit in 2011 - the first by a British monarch in a century - there has been a clear focus on building on the relationship, with an emphasis on reconciliation between two countries with such a long shared history," says Ms Nash.

"The fact that the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall have visited Ireland every year for the past five years and will continue to do so shows that commitment and I think, from their part, a genuine interest in and affection for the country and the Irish people.

"Brexit has also underlined the importance of that relationship and there's no doubt this visit will be influenced by that."

Royal commentator Robert Jobson, agrees: "The relationship between the UK and Ireland is, without doubt, the most important relationship that needs to be maintained and protected post-Brexit.

"As well as the issue of stability in Northern Ireland and the financial and trade links between the two countries, there are the huge cultural and family ties between the countries.

"There are so many people of Irish descent right across Great Britain - including my own great-grandmother - so that relationship needs to be close."

And, says the author and royal editor at London's Evening Standard newspaper, the royals have an important diplomatic role to play in making that happen.

"The Queen has always been engaged in Northern Ireland and Ireland and, since her visit to the Republic in 2011, the Prince of Wales has made a few visits, although they haven't been quite so high-profile," says Mr Jobson.

"But, with the Duke and Duchess coming next week, it shows there is an emphasis on the younger generation engaging with the future relationship. A royal visit like this provides a less politically overt way to start any conversations that need to be had.

"With a Government minister, it's all trade talks and business. But royals, like the Duke and Duchess, do well in this super-ambassador role, bringing people together with a friendly face and breaking down barriers a little bit, if they're there.

"That's what the Queen managed to do in 2011, which was remarkable. She was welcomed so warmly by the Taoiseach and President and I'll never forget the picture of her the following year in Northern Ireland with Martin McGuinness. It was historic.

"While next week's is a major visit, I don't think anything will match the Queen in 2011. But the Cambridges have the glamour factor and it's great for photographers and people in the media, because the people like to see them."

Carrying out more and more significant "soft diplomacy" roles on behalf of the Government makes sense for the couple, says Emily Nash.

"William and Kate are a hugely valuable asset for the UK in terms of soft diplomacy, as we've seen on recent visits to Pakistan, and William's visit to the Middle East," she says.

"They have a great ability to shine a spotlight on issues that unite people wherever they are, such as the environment, mental health and young people.

"They will be King and Queen

one day, so it makes sense that they are taking on increasingly important overseas visits on behalf of the Government."

And, with the difficulties the monarchy has faced in recent months, not least the Duke and Duchess of Sussex's shock announcement to step down from their duties last month, steadying the ship will be no mean feat for the next-in-line to the throne, the Prince of Wales, and his eldest son."

Royal biographer Penny Junor (inset) says it's been a bad year for The Firm: "People have asked me many times how detrimental I think all of it has been, Harry and Meghan and the Andrew situation. My answer is always, of course it's not good news for the Royal family, but for the monarchy itself, I have not seen any of it as a huge threat.

"Prince Andrew is the Queen's son, but the reality is, in most people's eyes he's not seen as terribly important. And Harry and Meghan might be a fabulously charismatic pair, but they are not the future of the monarchy.

"At the core, and what will continue, is the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh, the Prince of Wales and Camilla, William and Kate and little Prince George in the future. Those are the core members that make up the monarchy, and they are absolutely rock solid."

And next week's trip to Ireland, which begins on Tuesday, is another opportunity for the couple of the moment to put their best feet forward for the royals, she says.

"Kate and William are doing really good work and they're very much loved and much respected - that's what we have to focus on. It's very sad, of course, that we've lost Harry and Meghan and who knows what the future will hold for them and whether or not things on that front will start to settle down.

"But what we do know is that William and Kate are rock solid and, with this trip and all the things they've been doing recently, they really seem to be stepping up to the plate, which is fantastic.

"It might be that there is more of a focus on them now that Harry and Meghan have stepped back, but they're looking strong, they're doing good work and their interests have a universal appeal."

Ahead of next week's high-profile visit, Victoria Murphy, an author and journalist who has been writing about the royals for almost a decade, says while the Cambridges' increasingly prominent role is certainly helpful to the family at the moment, it hasn't necessarily been pushed forward to offset negative publicity elsewhere.

"I would say that, yes, it's a good time for William and Kate's charity work and trips to be very visible, when the royal family has had so much negative coverage over the last few months," says Ms Murphy.

"However, I do think the timing of them taking on more isn't directly related to that and more about the fact that they have been gradually building their roles over a long period of time.

"I think we've seen the Cambridges really play the long game when it comes to building on their roles within the royal family.

"When they were first married, they took on some duties, but also very much had a life outside the spotlight and William had another job as well.

"In the last decade or so, their responsibilities have increased significantly, but in a really gradual way. For me, the big moment was when they said that George would go to school in London, which meant that they were effectively accepting that London was their base when before it had seemed to be Norfolk, which is where he went to nursery."

Emily Nash agrees. "If we are seeing more of William and Kate at the moment, that's because they are doing a lot more. There's no doubt the Cambridges are busier than ever at the moment and the departure of Harry and Meghan means there will be more work to do.

"But this also reflects a natural progression in their roles, as the Queen increasingly relies on them for support, as well as on Charles and Camilla."

Victoria Murphy, who has appeared frequently as a royal contributor on TV networks around the world, including Good Morning America, believes the Duchess of Cambridge's increasing confidence in her role has been key.

"We have really seen Kate grow in confidence over time and last year we saw and heard a lot from the couple," says Ms Murphy.

"She has become very focused on what charitable work she wants to do - the early years and the outdoors."

Penny Junor agrees that Kate's appeal has been a major boost for the family.

"She's just wonderful, as a mother and as a duchess and she looks blissfully happy every time we see her. She's absolutely engaged in everything she does and she seems to light up with everyone she meets.

"Between Kate and William, you simply couldn't ask for a more positive image. They're not stuffy, or old-fashioned, but they're quietly conservative. They're not making waves and they're carrying on the tradition of the monarchy, but they give it all a younger twist.

"Kate has a twinkle in her eye and while she might not be as touchy feely as Meghan, I think she's incredibly warm and genuine. Yet, there's that little bit of distance still there, which I think people want from the monarchy."

However, says Ms Junor, the fact we're seeing more and more of the Cambridges doesn't mean they're nudging Prince Charles, who is set to tour Cyprus and Jordan next month along with his wife, out of place.

"Not at all," she says. "It's a balancing act between them and the Prince of Wales and they're sharing the load, because the Prince of Wales is increasingly sharing the Queen's work.

"He does a couple of foreign trips a year, like the Cambridges, as well as a lot of work around the UK. He'll probably be doing at least as much as they are.

"It's, perhaps, just because people are a bit more interested in the glamorous young couple, this wonderfully photogenic pair, that there's the impression they're doing more. But, of course, he's still there and he's still doing an awful lot.

"With Charles and Camilla there working so hard and William and Kate presenting such a positive image of the royal family, I'm quite sure they will do very well on visits like next week's.

"They are doing a great job and making people feel quite confident about the future of it all."

Please log in or register with belfasttelegraph.co.uk for free access to this article.

Already have an account?

Belfast Telegraph