When I was little the Queen came to visit our school. The teachers were ecstatic and the other pupils were pre-Christmas type excited. As the day got closer they jostled to be picked to be the one who would give the obligatory posy to her Majesty. Even back then in those memory misted days I have no recollection of getting excited.
The school was cleaned from roof to basement and we were handed little plastic union jacks to wave on the day. I remember they had a hollow black stick with a red pointy button on top that was quite good for poking people in the back with. I quite liked the plastic flag too. You could see the sky through it and the colours swirled with if you pulled at the plastic enough. As a symbol of patriotism it meant little or nothing to my five year old sensibilities. My mum had found me a Welsh flag to wave instead, the flag of the land of her birth. It had a wooden handle and was made of a strange shiny fabric that frayed nicely at the end – and it had a dragon on it. There was no comparison.
I remember getting told off when I brought my Welsh dragon into school. It wasn’t the prescribed Union Jack, which was discarded in a messy corner of my bedroom, it’s red and blue pulled almost white and no longer capable of any satisfactory waving. There was almost a row over that discarded Union Jack but in the end time was too short and young children had to be wrangled into lines on the side of the road to wave at the royal car. I ended up standing at the front and waved my dragon like mad as the car drove down the road. As it neared me it slowed down and a smiling grey haired lady looked out of the open window. She caught sight of my dragon and waved right at me. That was the last time I got excited about royalty.
I remember the silver jubilee. We had a street party and I wore the Welsh national costume (Wales being a bit of a recurring theme in my childhood). At one stage there was a fancy dress competition and once again I was dressed in my red check skirt and stove pipe hat. I came second and was momentarily offended at being called a Welsh witch.
These aren’t particularly unique memories if you grew up in England like I did and when I did. Most people of my age and geographical upbringing would be able to tell you something similar. It comes of growing up in a constitutional monarchy. Like most other people we gathered around the family TV set to watch Diana Spencer marry Prince Charles. It was just another shared point of reference, a marker in the course of our lives. But we were never particularly royalists. I remember being taught how to curtsey (possibly for that school visit before the flag debacle) but could never do it without falling over. There may have been the odd commemorative mug around but shoved in the back of cupboards rather than on display anywhere.
I’m writing this as background because today Queen Elizabeth II came to Ireland. It’s a historic visit, the first in the history of the state. There have been protests (small but noisy), a heightened garda presence (big, very big, but on the whole rather quiet) and more metal barriers than you could shake a St Patricks parade at. There was a wreath laying and a visit to the Book of Kells and the Queen changed her outfit several times. It’s all very portentous and historic.
This time round I wasn’t waving a Welsh dragon, I didn’t even have a stovepipe hat. I spent most of the day wandering around a Dublin that looked like the set of a post apocalyptic British film made as a comment on Margaret Thatcher. Yellow vested gardai were everywhere, as were disgruntled Dubs. The royal cortege sped down a deserted O’Connell Street while the citizens of Dublin were kept at a very long arms length, at a sufficient distance so that projectiles couldn’t be lobbed, or anti monarchist chants heard, let alone republican banners read from a speeding car.
I’ve no sympathy for the idiots who staged a sit down outside the Conways pub on Parnell Street or the muppets attempting to burn flags down the road in Dorset Street. They were the kind of rabble that come out of the woodwork any time something like this happens and they’re not representative of the prevailing attitude in Dublin. I’ve seen enough of the trials that came out of the Love Ulster riots (which were sparked by an Orange March down O’Connell St – which was always going to be a rather daft idea). Most of the people charged weren’t republicans at all but unfortunates with no fixed abode who’d come across the placard waving protestors and seized the opportunity to sack and pillage the nearby sports shops. There’ll probably be something similar over the next day or so. That’s the way things tend to go in this city. We have a highly excitable underclass.
What surprises me is how many closet royalists I’ve met in the last few weeks. There’s been a genuine excitement about this visit that went beyond building bridges, and don’t get me started on the royal wedding hysteria we’ve only just got over. I’m not expecting everyone to start singing A Nation Once Again but somewhere at the back of my mind was the assumption that the citizens of a republic would be less impressed by a family who gained their status through nothing more than an accident of birth, a life of privilege through a fluke of genetics. When the Queen visited Trinity College this afternoon she was greeted with a labyrinthine line of people waiting to be presented to her. It’ll be the same for those invited to the gala concert later this week. I’ve seen people with invites congratulated already on Twitter but I just don’t really get it. She didn’t do anything to get to be queen. What is the big deal about shaking her hand? She can’t actually cure scrofula you know!
I’ve nothing particularly against the British royal family I just don’t really see the point of them. I certainly don’t see the point of living in a temporary police state for four days while the glitterati of Dublin play high society with an elderly couple who lucked into figure head status across the Irish Sea. Today’s wreath laying at the Garden of Remembrance on Parnell Square may have been a significant moment in reconciliation between the two countries but the next three days are simply a junket that most of us don’t get to participate in. There’ll be a lot written about how the acceptance of this visit shows a new maturity for the Irish people. But wouldn’t it be even more mature to just take it all in our stride and not make such a fuss. There’ve already been four bomb scares today. The lockdown of the city is a reaction to a genuine threat from a few bigoted individuals. Couldn’t these grand gestures have been made in a shorter visit? One that wouldn’t require the city to be in a constant state of high alert for the best part of a week? Do we really need to give the monarch of another country such a prolonged junket? Can’t we just go back to appreciating our new found maturity in peace?