150 years ago Victoria made what is undoubtedly the most famous visit by a member of the British royal family to these shores. Ryle Dwyer revisits the eight days that marked the start of a very valuable tourism trade.
The planned visit of Britain’s Queen in May has been welcomed by tourist bodies as an opportunity to showcase Ireland as a tourist destination.
The eight-day visit in 1861 by Queen Victoria placed Killarney, and Ireland, firmly on the tourist map.
Queen Victoria’s eight-day visit to Ireland began on August 22, 1861. She arrived on the royal yacht at Kingstown (now Dún Laoghaire), along with her husband, Prince Albert. They brought three of their nine children with them: Prince Alfred, and Princesses Helena and Alice. Their eldest son, Edward, the Prince of Wales, was already in Ireland undergoing military training at the Curragh.
The description of their arrival and their procession in an open carriage through the city to the Vice-Regal Lodge (now Áras an Uachtaráin), where the royal family stayed while in Dublin, was a litany of superlatives. Next day Albert went to the Curragh to watch a military review in which his 19-year-old heir took part.
“The eyes of Prince Albert were beaming with delight at the exhibition of proficiency on the part of his eldest son,” one reporter noted in gushing prose that was typical of the reporting of the visit.
Edward would not be remembered for what he learned about the military in the Curragh, but more for what he learned there about other aspects of life. Some colleague smuggled an actress, Nellie Clifton, to his room. That was apparently where he lost his virginity and acquired a carnal lust for which he would become infamous as “Edward the Rake”.
The tryst with Clifton was to have dire consequences before the end of the year.
On their third day in Ireland, the royal family travelled by train to Killarney. They spent the first night at the home of Lord Castlerosse, who threw a large banquet. The guests included Sir Roland Blennerhasset, William P Crosbie, and James O’Connell — a brother of the most famous Kerryman of all, Daniel O’Connell. The local Catholic bishop, David Moriarty, was also present. Six years later it was he who infamously proclaimed that “Hell is not hot enough nor eternity long enough” for the Fenians.
About 10,000 people flocked to Killarney to witness the visit and that evening there was a fireworks display over the lower lake.
Next day the royal party went boating. There were as many as 800 boats on the lakes that day, according to one report.
Eight oarsmen propelled the queen’s boat. The party stopped for lunch at Glena House and later took a break at Derricunnihy, where a marquee had been set up. Victoria remarked that the beauty of the lakes had surpassed her highest expectations.
For the next two nights the royal family stayed at Muckross House, owned by Henry A Herbert, a local MP. In the following days the royal party was taken to local sites such as Ross Castle, Muckross Abbey and Torc Waterfall, while the queen’s ladies in waiting were taken to a viewing point that overlooks the Lakes of Killarney. As a result, it has henceforth been known as Ladies’ View.
The royal visit did much to place Killarney on the map as probably the country’s premier tourist attraction, but this was at some cost to those involved. Herbert, who was saddled with the cost of much of the extravagance, got into such financial difficulties that he had to sell Muckross House and the estate.
Shortly after the royal family returned to Britain, Prince Edward went back to Cambridge University, where he continued to see Nellie Clifton, who was not very discreet. Soon word of Edward’s debauchery reached his father, who went to Cambridge to have a serious talk with his son.
Albert was upset by the whole thing and became ill and died shortly afterwards of typhus. Victoria went into mourning for the remainder of her life and blamed Edward for Albert’s death. “I never can or shall look at him without a shudder,” she wrote.
She did not return to Ireland for the remainder of the century. It was not until April 3, 1900, that she visited again. There was great pomp and ceremony associated with the visit. It was suggested that this was really intended as a recruiting tool for British forces during the Boer War.
An enormous number of people came to Dublin to see the queen.
“From all parts of the country vast contingents came, and they largely swelled the enormous throng in the street,” The Irish Times reported. “No such scenes as those of yesterday have been witnessed in the streets of the city within modern memory, and in all probability no living person will ever witness their like again.”
“No single mishap has marred the coming of the Queen amongst us,” the report continued. Ironically, the same day in Belgium a botched attempt was made to assassinate the Prince of Wales, but he got away unscathed. “From every lip you hear the heartfelt words, ‘I hope it will not mar the Queen’s visit to Ireland’,” one London correspondent wrote.
A variety of military and naval bands played in the city during her procession from Kingstown to the Vice-regal Lodge in an open carriage. “We went along the quays in the poorer parts of town where thousands gathered together and gave me a wildly enthusiastic greeting,” she noted in her diary. At the Phoenix Park, the Artane Boys Band played for Victoria. “It was really a wonderful reception I got and most gratifying.”
She remained in Dublin for three weeks, performing official functions and visiting schools and hospitals. “I felt quite sorry that all was over,” she wrote on April 26, at the end of her trip. “I can never forget the really wild enthusiasm and affectionate loyalty displayed by all in Ireland and shall ever retain a most grateful remembrance of this warm hearted sympathetic people.” Less than nine months later she died.
The next royal visit was on July 21, 1903. King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra arrived at Kingstown, but the ceremonies during their five-day stay were largely curtailed, because Pope Leo XIII had died the previous day.
One of king’s stops was at Maynooth College, where they met with the four Catholic archbishops and some 20 of the bishops.
They returned to Ireland again on April 26, 1904, on a semi-official eight-day visit. They took a train to Naas and spent their first afternoon at Punchestown Races. On the third morning, the king lay the foundation stone for the Royal College of Science at Leinster Lawn. That afternoon he went to a racing meeting at Phoenix Park, and he and the queen attended a Command Performance at the Theatre Royal.
The royal couple went to Kilkenny and Waterford during their visit.
Edward’s reign was comparatively short, and he did not return to Dublin again.
The last visit of a reigning British monarch was that of George V, who arrived with Queen Mary and their son, the Prince of Wales (the future King Edward VIII) and daughter Princess Mary. They arrived in Kingstown on July 8, 1911, and went into the city in procession.
It was the king’s first trip outside Britain following his recent coronation.
The warmth of the public welcome was such that The Daily Telegraph referred to the five-day visit as “the latest and happiest conquest of Ireland”. Others might contend that the Irish were finally breaking into the British tourist market.
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