Queen Elizabeth II arrives in Ireland today, and naturally there’s more of a fuss being made of her visit than if she were the Queen of Sweden, say, or Swaziland. Eight hundred years of oppression, the Famine, the Black and Tans, Bobby Sands, yadda-yadda-yadda. I know that some handful of headbangers are apoplectic about the fact that the Republic of Ireland is welcoming the Queen of England to our country, and I also know that there are people who are fairly a-quiver with excitement at the prospect. Most people, as far as I can make out, are pretty blasé about it all - history is a fine thing, certainly, but it don’t boil no potatoes.
It’ll be interesting to hear what the Queen has to say when she visits Croke Park, for sure, and there’s no doubting the historic importance of the optics of her visit, but really, very little will change. Ireland will go on treating Britain like some kind of older sibling, vaguely resentful of the bullying that went on years ago, a little envious perhaps of its self-confidence, all the while stealing its clothes and playing its games and supporting its teams - unless, of course, it’s England that looks like winning a World Cup - and tapping it up for jobs and the odd five billion now and again.
As an Irishman, it should go without saying that if I could wave a magic wand, as Declan Kiberd said during the week, and erase the colonialism, the Famine, the Partition and the Troubles, I’d do it in a heartbeat. But I can’t. The world is the way it is, and what’s gone, to paraphrase the song, is gone and lost forever. The question is whether we want to live in the past or look to the future. Some people are happier wallowing in the mire of history, given the certainty of its prejudices; some people are happier looking forward. I can’t speak for everyone, but I’m one of the latter.
I’ve liked most English and / or British people I’ve met, and I love the culture - I support Liverpool FC; I love The Stones and The Beatles, The Smiths and Joy Division; I love the novels of David Peace, Lawrence Durrell, William Golding, John Fowles, Graham Greene, and many, many more. I grew up on a steady diet of Enid Blyton, Match of the Day and Top of the Pops. Any time I’ve visited Britain, I’ve been treated with the kind of courtesy and good manners that the Irish are supposed to be famous for. I’ve never been particularly interested in the monarchy, and I’m opposed in principle to the idea that people are born to rule, even in a titular sense; but that’s neither here nor there for the next few days.
The Queen of England has come to visit the Republic of Ireland, and there’s no reason why she shouldn’t be treated with the same respect and courtesy she offered Michael Fagan, when she chatted with him for ten minutes when he dropped by her bedroom unannounced. Welcome to Ireland, Ma’am - I sincerely hope you enjoy your stay.
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