seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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President Mary Robinson Meets Queen Elizabeth II

robinson-elizabeth-visit-1993Mary Robinson, the first female president of Ireland, becomes the first Irish head of state to meet with a British monarch when she visits Queen Elizabeth II on May 27, 1993.

For much of the 20th century, relations between Ireland and its nearest neighbour are cool. Temperatures drop significantly over the economic war in the 1930s and Ireland’s neutrality in World War II. The sense of unfinished business permeates diplomacy during the Troubles, but by 1990 there is significant warmth in trade, tourism, business and even politics.

The newly elected Robinson makes a big play of reaching out to Irish emigrants and sees the opportunity to help Anglo-Irish relations. And so, on her 49th birthday, she pops in for tea with the British head of state.

None of Robinson’s predecessors had set foot in Britain, other than to change planes. Even when President Patrick Hillery is invited to the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer in 1981, he is advised by the Government of Ireland to decline the invitation.

But Robinson decides she will not be pushed around, and successfully insists she be allowed to join other heads of state at the opening of a European bank in London. Next she asks the government if she might be able to travel to the University of Cambridge to deliver a speech and receive an honorary degree. It is only after he reluctantly agrees that Taoiseach Charlie Haughey realises that the Chancellor of the University is the Queen’s husband, Prince Philip.

Robinson meets the royal, the world remains on its axis, and a precedent is set. “Partly because I’ve never been fazed by royalty of any kind, least of all the British royal family, I felt entirely relaxed,” she recalls in her authorised biography.

Robinson next meets the prince at a memorial service for the victims of an Irish Republican Army (IRA) bombing in Warrington, where she is applauded as she leaves the church. Soon, she is meeting royals all over the place, at rugby matches and memorial ceremonies, and in a television interview says that she would like to meet the Queen.

By February 1993, Haughey has been replaced by Albert Reynolds and he grants permission for Robinson to travel for a strictly personal visit. The visit does not happen in a vacuum – Reynolds is in secret discussions with Republicans that would end in the IRA ceasefire – and the Taoiseach is keen not to give any suggestion that this is a State visit, which would require a reciprocal visit.

Robinson’s party arrives at Buckingham Palace at 4:55 PM on May 27 where they are greeted by the Queen’s private secretary, Sir Robert Fellowes. Robinson’s staff pushes the Palace to allow press photographers, reckoning that a historic moment should be captured.

Robinson, in an Ib Jorgensen fuchsia suit, later donated to Madame Tussauds waxworks, and her husband Nick are brought up to the first floor to meet the Queen for a friendly and informal tea party that lasts 30 minutes. They sip a blend of Chinese and India tea in Minton cups, exchange signed photographs of themselves, and discuss the prospects for peace. The President also hands over an extra present of a hand-turned wooden cup from Spiddal.

Afterwards, the ground-breaking photographs are taken and published all over the world, including the front page of the Irish Independent. “Palace Talks Prepare Way for State Visit” runs the lead headline over a piece by Bernard Purcell and Gene McKenna. They go on, reporting the President as saying the visit is “symbolic of the maturing relationship between Ireland and Britain.”

In 1996 President Robinson’s 15th visit to Britain is upgraded to an Official Visit, and she leaves office the following year.

Robinson’s successor, Mary McAleese, takes things further, and meets Queen Elizabeth II several times in London and at World War I commemorations on the continent. In May 2011 McAleese welcomes Queen Elizabeth II on her four-day State Visit to Ireland and in April 2014 President Michael D. Higgins makes the first State Visit to the UK.

(Pictured: President Mary Robinson with the Queen outside Buckingham Palace in 1993. Photo: Eamonn Farrell/Photocall Ireland | “Flashback 1993: The first Irish head of state meeting with a British monarch” by Ger Siggins, Independent.ie, May 22, 2016)


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Death of Queen Victoria

queen-victoriaQueen Victoria dies at Osborne House, Isle of Wight on January 22, 1901, ending an era in which most of her British subjects know no other monarch.

With a reign of 63 years, seven months and two days, she is the longest-reigning British monarch and the longest-reigning queen regnant in world history until her great-great-granddaughter Elizabeth II surpasses her on September 9, 2015. She restores dignity to the English monarchy and ensures its survival as a ceremonial political institution. Edward VII accedes to the throne upon her death.

Born on May 24, 1819 in Kensington Palace, London, Victoria comes to the throne after the death of her uncle, King William IV, in 1837. As a young woman ascending to the throne, her future husband describes her “as one whose extreme obstinacy was constantly at war with her good nature.” Her first prime minister, William Lamb, 2nd Viscount Melbourne, becomes her close friend and adviser, and she succeeds in blocking his replacement by Tory leader Sir Robert Peel in 1839. Two years later, however, an election results in a Tory majority in the House of Commons, and she is compelled to accept Peel as prime minister. Never again does she interfere so directly in the politics of democratic Britain.

In 1839, her first cousin Albert, a German prince, comes to visit the English court at Windsor, and Victoria proposes to him five days after his arrival. Prince Albert accepts and they are married in February 1840. He soon becomes the dominant influence in her life and serves as her private secretary. Among his greatest achievements as Prince Consort is his organization of The Great Exhibition of 1851, the first world’s fair, in the Crystal Palace in London. He also steers her support away from the Whigs to the conservative Tories. She later is a vocal supporter of Benjamin Disraeli, leader of the Conservative Party.

Victoria and Albert build royal residences at Osborne House on the Isle of Wight and at Balmoral Castle in Scotland and become increasingly detached from London. They have nine children, including Victoria, later the empress of Germany, and the Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII. In 1861, Albert dies and Victoria’s grief is such that she does not appear in public for three years. She never entirely gets over the loss and, until the end of her life, has her maids nightly lay out Albert’s clothes for the next day and in the morning replace the water in the basin in his room.

Disraeli coaxes Victoria out of seclusion, and she is impressed by his efforts to strengthen and expand the British Empire. In 1876, he has her made “empress of India,” a title which pleases her and makes her a symbol of imperial unity. During the last few decades of her life, her popularity, which had suffered during her long public absence, increases greatly. She never embraces the social and technological advances of the 19th century but accepts the changes and works hard to fulfill her ceremonial duties as head of state.

Following a custom she maintains throughout her widowhood, Victoria spends the Christmas of 1900 at Osborne House on the Isle of Wight. Rheumatism in her legs has rendered her lame and her eyesight is clouded by cataracts. Through early January, she feels weak and unwell, and by mid-January she is drowsy, dazed and confused. She dies in the early evening of Tuesday, January 22, 1901, at the age of 81. Her son and successor King Edward VII, and her eldest grandson, Emperor Wilhelm II of Germany, are at her deathbed. Her favourite pet Pomeranian, Turi, is laid upon her deathbed as a last request.

Victoria’s funeral is held on Saturday, February 2, in St. George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle, and after two days of lying-in-state, she is interred beside Prince Albert in Frogmore Mausoleum at Windsor Great Park. When she dies, she has 37 surviving great-grandchildren, and their marriages with other monarchies give her the name “grandmother of Europe.”