Belfast Telegraph

Why glad-handing royals has nothing to do with the peace

Prince Charles arrives at the National University of Ireland in Galway
Prince Charles arrives at the National University of Ireland in Galway

By Eamonn McCann

I may have mentioned before, because it is always on my mind in days like these, that when the Queen came to Derry in 1953 as part of her post-coronation peregrination around the realm, opinion on our street as to how to respond was divided.

It appears that her eldest Charles encountered less ambivalence when he arrived in Galway yesterday to clasp hands with Sinn Fein leaders.

I have not been able to confirm reports that all concerned linked arms for a rendition of the classic McNamara's Band - "When the Price of Wales to Ireland came, he shook me by the hand/Says 'I've never seen the like of McNamara's Band'/Oi!"

Back in the olden days our street was well-placed to make a judgment on the royal visit issue, there being no more than 200 yards between Con Bradley's pub on what was later to become known as 'Aggro Corner' and Great James Street, along which the royal limousine was scheduled to travel en route to Brooke Park.

Mrs Mulrooney - not her real name - had managed to inveigle herself into one of the couple of swanky Catholic houses on Great James Street so she could watch from an upstairs window without adding to the crowd.

There were many on the street with folded arms, averring that this was no more than a devious manoeuvre and no credit to the Mulrooneys. I suspect some of these people were just jealous.

That characterised the general attitude - a guilty fascination with royals and royal goings-on. But there were others who wanted nothing to do with her, regarding the rulers of England as the neverending source of Ireland's political ills.

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These were the unflinching devotees of Sinn Fein, so sparse among the population they can still be recalled individually by name - Larry Boyle, Johnnie Gallagher, Sean Keenan, Paddy Shiels.

My father used to take delight in pointing out that Sinn Fein had been founded as a royalist party, advocating a "dual monarchy" along the lines of Austria-Hungary, with a single constitution covering both Westminster and an Irish parliament, and the empire recast as a British/Irish joint venture.

The party's founder, Arthur Griffith, had looked forward to a free Ireland in which "kings and commons" would live amicably alongside one another and share in the many benefits this would bring.

Griffith believed it an insult to the nation that, unlike so many other European countries, Ireland had never had colonies of her own.

Gerry Adams may take comfort from the fact that this gives the lie to "dissident" claims that the scenes in Galway yesterday represented a betrayal of hallowed tradition. Nationalism reshapes itself for every generation, exists in a constant state of adaptation to changing political realities.

It can face Left today, Right tomorrow, shout the odds for revolution in the morning, cuddle up with reaction at night.

Nothing unusual in this. Same with nationalist movements all over the world - albeit that the revisions are rarely acknowledged.

This is particularly the case in Ireland, where the most militant form of nationalism styles itself "republican" and insists at the top of its voice that its ideas and principles have been handed down pristine-pure from the dead generations.

The father of Irish republicanism, Wolfe Tone, enthusiastically aligned himself with the revolution in France, where they had cut off the king's head.

Were Prince Charles visiting Ireland in a private capacity to grieve at the site of the killing in 1979 of Lord Mountbatten (79), Paul Maxwell (15), Nicholas Knatchbull (14) and Dorothy Brabourne (83), no one with a half-ounce of sensitivity would object. But that's not what's happening.

Instead, Charles is being welcomed in his role as royal representative of the State to which, we are told, we must become reconciled in order to consolidate peace.

The political culture of Ireland is poorer for the fact that it is more difficult than ever - certainly more difficult than back in 1953 - to make the democratic case against monarchy, monarchs and soon-to-be monarchs without being categorised as a crude nationalist. Or any sort of nationalist.

Personally, I have always found the English decent, hospitable people. I wouldn't hear a racist word against them. None of my scores of English friends has any time for the royals - "scroungers" being among their milder epithets.

We do not have to hold the royals in high regard to make peace with our neighbours. Most of us have never been at war with them in the first place.

The consolidation of peace can be achieved only by plain people making common cause across national and religious divides. That is to say, on the basis of proclaiming that it's the people who must be sovereign.

Glad-handing an old fogey in Galway has nothing to do with it.

Read more:

Gerry Adams and Prince Charles: Opposite types who have so much in common 

Prince Charles' royal visit to Ireland: In pictures 

Prince Charles royal visit: Bloody Sunday widow tells granddaughter to sing her heart out for peace

Prince Charles has nothing to apologise for but is happy to forgive - it's a pity Gerry Adams can't do the same 

A day of firsts as Prince Charles shakes hands on peace and lives dream on Burren 

Royal visit to take a sombre tone as Prince Charles remembers great-uncle slain by IRA at Mullaghmore 

Gerry Adams has no apology for Lord Mountbatten murder - earl 'knew the dangers' of coming to Ireland

Charles visits Sligo art gallery 

Foster attacks BBC for 'lack of balance' in report 

Gerry Adams in 'meeting of minds' with Prince Charles 

I'm a Fred Astaire fan says Charles 

  Prince Charles' 'regret' over deaths during Northern Ireland Troubles

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