The visit of Queen Elizabeth (tomorrow) “has Ireland in a frenzy” according to yesterday’s Irish Mail on Sunday (that’s the Irish edition of the London paper of that name). I'm not sure that’s true. It’s a topic of conversation right enough and the most common sentiment I've heard expressed is “I just hope nothing happens and she gets back all right”. The visit cropped up in the sauna at the swimming pool in Fermoy today. A man recalled the day in 1979 that Lord Louis Mountbatten, the Queen's cousin, was killed by an IRA bomb on his boat on a lake in Ireland. He said he was in a pub in Cork that day and the prevailing mood was disgust and anger at the deed; but the British press misrepresented the mood in Ireland to be one of rejoicing. (What the truth behind that is I don’t know, that’s just what be said.)
I've seen the visit described as the biggest security operation in the history of the State. The Irish Government is allowing 120 armed British police officers to patrol the streets of Irish cities to protect the Queen during the visit. Oddly, this hasn’t provoked as much hostile reaction as I expected when I first heard the news (which was yesterday). There'll be no walkabouts in fact it's been said she'll be driving through empty streets, so strict is the security.
A few weeks ago there was a lively exchange of readers letters in the Irish Examiner on the topic of the Queen’s visit. Here are three of them, just a small sample to give a flavour of it. (The paper used to be called the Cork Examiner and judging from the letters page it still has a largely Cork readership.)
(1) From James O’Leary, Bantry, Co Cork, Thursday, April 14
It’s hard to forget British sins of the past
Is there anyone out there who feels like me? All the PC brigade will frown, but this upcoming royal visit sticks in my craw. I’ve heard all the "build a bridge and get over it" comments and how friendly and different things are now and history should be left in the past, but I still cannot swallow it.
Am I to celebrate the arrival in my country the very epitome of a regime that has persecuted, maimed, murdered and destroyed so many of my countrymen? Am I to stand and wave my Union Jack like an obedient little colonist of yesteryear eager to catch a glimpse of an aging monarch? I feel I would be betraying not only the ghosts of generations before me but of a still living generation who have experienced the special treatment of crown forces. They were batoned at Burntollet for having the cheek to demand one man one vote. They were shot dead in Derry marching for civil rights. They were maimed and killed by rubber bullets. They were let starve to death rather than given their rights. I could go on and on but I am supposed to forget all these things because its all behind us now. I might be able to forget it if it weren’t for a line from Donegal to Louth which divides my land. This division of my country is upheld by forces who pledge loyalty to this visitor.
I think Yeats’ lines are more apt today then they were pre-1916 "Romantic Ireland is dead and gone, it’s with O’Leary in the grave."
(2) From Raymond White, Ballinspittle, Kinsale, Co Cork, Thursday, April 28
They gave us a lot, so let’s welcome the queen (this one cries out for the title "what the British did for us")
Barack Obama’s and Queen Elizabeth’s visits are a badly-needed boost for financially ailing Ireland and should be welcomed by all.
The queen’s visit is much longer and a blessing. Britain is our nearest neighbour and our biggest trading partner, and with the huge Irish-English population living a few miles from us, they are our best tourist visitors.
We should extend a "céad míle fáilte" to them and anyone else who wants to visit our Island. Remember, they built our universities, churches (ie Maynooth 1795), they constructed our lighthouses, our houses of parliament, bridges and viaducts. They built the big houses, which are tourist attractions today, the Grand and Royal Canals and our railway stations.
Under their supervision, railway tracks were built from most main cities to towns and villages throughout the country only for us to rip them up and sell off everything for scrap.
Our lifeboats are still controlled from Britain, they gave us St Patrick to convert us, and the English flag carries his cross.
Our prized Book of Kells was printed in Lindisfarne in northeast England and was brought over to Kells for safe keeping as the Viking attacks were sweeping westward. They built our main army barracks and firing ranges, which are still in use today but sadly falling into decay.
When our main ports — ie Lough Swilly, Beare Island and Spike island — were handed back to us in 1938, they were fully equipped. Yet, once again, everything was ripped apart, large guns scrapped and sold off, and generators and other equipment went in all directions.
Now we are trying to fix up those sites — that is what is left over — and open them up as tourist attractions.
The British took our cattle and produce during the First and Second World Wars and, yes we know that bad deeds were carried out on all sides, but I know for sure that we got the best of the colonial powers. Would we be better off under the Belgians, Dutch, Portuguese, Germans, or Spanish who slaughtered everyone during their conquest?
If the royals from those countries came here, would there be a protest? Let’s get on with life and promote our country.
(3) From Cormac Cahill, Maryborough Woods, Douglas, Cork, Monday, May 2
The harsh reality of life under British rule
Raymond White (April 28) thanks the English for all they gave us, or rather had us build for them, and says we should be grateful that we didn’t have worse overlords like the Spanish, who perhaps may have slaughtered us.
We did not get to chose our colonial masters and if we had I am sure we would have chosen none, thank you.
Yet, Ireland suffered multiple famines, numerous bouts of ethnic cleansing and forced expatriation through our history with England.
There is a school of thought out there that says we should forget this and move on.
There is another school of thought says no, especially as the British flag flies over six of our counties.
Wherever one stands on the issue of history, the revisionist phenomenon as displayed by Mr White of thinking of our time under our colonial masters as an enlightened walk in the park where we were shown how to behave properly is delusional.
Such thinking merely feeds into a latent nationalism in many Irish people, and would have me rather join with the protesters than the growing brigades of fawning sleveens.
Another string of letters explored the anti-royalist theme: an hereditary monarch is illegitimate and has no place in a republic ... yes but she's been chosen as head of state by the British people ... oh yeah when was that then.
Finally, the Sinn Fein line is that the royal visit is “premature”.