Was she visiting her nearest neighbour, or some developing country with the arse out of its trousers? She touched down just after midday in Casement Aerodrome, bookending 800 years of fear and loathing.
But where were the cheering crowds? As she stepped down from the plane, there was nobody there to greet her but a gaggle of uniforms and Eamon Gilmore. Nobody waving little Union Jack flags. Not even Eamon Gilmore. No ranks of adoring public. No clapping or cheering. The silence spoke of the centuries and the small band who are still counting out the years.
Still, she hopped down as if the place was Balmoral, and advanced through the greeting party, shaking hands and issuing a smile that could win competitions. You have to hand it to her. She’s some goer for a woman of 85.
But bad and all as the silence was in Baldonnel, the drive to the Áras must have set alarm bells ringing. Where are these people? Nobody lining the route. Lots of crash barriers, but nobody to crash against them. Are they all out in the fields, or at home boiling potatoes? Are we in Dublin or Pyongyang? Then there was the mix-up over which head of state was lined up to greet her. The de facto head was otherwise detained — on Riker’s Island. In the absence of the head of the IMF, Mary McAleese had to step into the breach. If she didn’t know better, the old dear might have suspected a coup.
The cavalcade diverted from the Merrion Hotel, favoured hang-out of the IMF boys, to Áras an Uachtaráin, where the nominal president lives in some splendour. Therein, the prez did us proud, togged out in pink, and her husband wearing a matching tie. The place was crawling with uniforms. One of them, a tall lad waving around a sword, let out a roar and the sound of clicked heels floated through the air. With that, the shooting started. Big guns booming out across the Park, and smoke drifting on the air. It’s hard to beat the whiff of cordite in the morning.
After a spot of grub, it was onto the Garden of Remembrance and a genuine poignant moment in which the queen laid a wreath in honour of those who used to dream and plot of killing her forbears. God Save The Queen rang out for the second time in the day, and the proceedings were brought to a close with a jaunty rendition of Amhrán na bhFiann, which would have done Croke Park proud on the third Sunday in September.
Having sorted out the dead generations, it was time to get cracking on the ranks of the unborn. Up to 500 appointments had to be cancelled at the nearby Rotunda Maternity Hospital, and while everybody was delighted that the queen was in town, it was time to get back to those who were busy being born.
Trinners was the next stop for a sconce at the Book of Kells. She nodded through a history lesson, appearing to show some interest in the Four Masters and their facility with the written word. Prince Philip at her shoulder looked even more engaged, not unlike a man straining at the leash for some action, any action.
By the end of the day, the old dear must have had history up to her oxters. Sorry about that Ma’am, but we’re good on the past, it’s the present we have difficulty with.
Day One came to an end with the cavalcade leaving Trinity, en route to book in for B&B in Farmleigh. No hitches so far and Big Phil is behaving himself. The malcontents did their damndest to kick up a stink, but only Sky News was really interested in the shenanigans. (A case of “Oi, Paddy, wave that flag and shake your fist for the cameras one more time” perhaps.)
An Garda Síochána, by contrast, is having a great state visit. All that overtime. All that information gleaned from citizens who live or work in the city centre and other points of interest. All that virtual cops and robbers stuff. Three days to go. Hold onto your hat.