A couple of super troopers

A GLANCE at Queen Elizabeth II’s itinerary in Ireland would make you marvel: planting trees, laying wreaths, touring two cities from breweries to colleges, meeting the GAA (not for the faint-hearted, least of all anyone who has no idea of what the GAA is all about), a State dinner, visits to three equine studs, a tour of the Rock of Cashel (marginally less taxing than the GAA but rock-climbing at any age is a challenge), a State banquet, chatting to Cork’s market traders before speeding off to have another chat with its scientists, chemists and physicists.

And all behind closed doors, or at least closed streets, so she never gets to marvel as her great-great grandmother did at the fine complexions and finer teeth of the Irish.

Not a bad few weeks for an 85-year old — except that it’s a few days. The programme for each day may not begin until 12 noon, which should allow a lie-in, but because she’s the Queen of England lie-ins aren’t part of the job spec. Those few early hours are the start of the working day, with correspondence and boxes of parliamentary material to be dealt with.

Her long working life has demonstrated that she is one of those who, having put their hand to the plough, does not turn back. It is this fortitude, perhaps engendered in her father’s acceptance of the burden of monarchy, and in the resilience with which her country recovered from two world wars, that may be the single, steadfast quality to unite her to the Irish elderly as surveyed in the Tilda study (The Irish Longitudinal Study on Aging) published last week.

When the queen goes to Trinity College in Dublin, she may be told about this research, organised by TCD to assess the health and well-being of the post-50 population, spanning ten years to 2018. Well, over 50 is a long way back in Queen Elizabeth’s life and even longer in that of the Duke of Edinburgh, given that both are more than 30 years ahead of the posse. They don’t show it, perhaps because the management of their professional duties allows space to enjoy the things that keep them fit and alert — like so many of the people in the survey whose retirement is enhanced by exercise and social contact.

There are other similarities, in kind if not altogether in degree: older Irish couples also enjoying a long and loyal marriage would recognise how the personal lives of the Windsors have been more than a little commonplace, with their children’s separations and divorces, two of them in scalding circumstances. The remarriages, the son waiting to take over the family firm, the betrayals by friends and sometimes even by family, the losses to death or distance and their response to it all being the personification of the British stiff upper lip.

Even allowing for shared human sorrows, the differences are colossal. The queen keeps her own horses and rides often and energetically, and she and her husband, with an ATM in Buckingham Palace, certainly can’t experience the same problems as the one-fifth of the over-50 cohort whose debts average from €6,000 to €10,000. The Tilda study also reveals the sharp and persistent gap between Ireland’s rich and poor, its educated and its uneducated older population. And while, like the seven out of 10 people in the survey who own their own home, the queen and duke must surely by now have paid off the mortgage, even with the 13% who own a second home they can go one or two more — Balmoral, Sandringham, Windsor Castle …

The royal couple also display phenomenal good health. The hypertension, high cholesterol, obesity, osteoporosis, arthritis, diabetes and depression, or what Hamlet called ‘the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to’ — these are all too familiar to us while apparently absent from the royal life-cycle. Should either or both reach the century, they are unlikely to be asked what kept them going to reach 100 years of age. And if the question were raised they are unlikely, even allowing for the Duke’s noted independence of thought and speech, to admit to tobacco and whiskey. Given that so much of Elizabeth’s life has been spent close to a mother who died at 101, age in this family is, with an apology for the pun, relative.

Although the Irish study omitted reference to religion, the queen and her husband can represent those who are supported by a strong religious faith. They also seem to embody the principle espoused by, for example, the organisers of the Bealtaine Festival, running all this month, that the second half of life is as important as the first, and that, to keep alive, healthy and in charge, the brain needs to be challenged. That’s true for all of us, even if Elizabeth and Philip have everything they need to take the metaphorical weight off their feet. It’s the fact that they are still on their feet — okay, probably with their own private chiropodists — doing what they’re asked to do most of the time which makes them remarkable. And, in my opinion, estimable. Which is why it seems odd that in all the commentary about these guests there has been so little reference to their gallantry. This may be one of the most dangerous commitments they have ever undertaken, a danger symbolised by the imposed absence of crowds and by the blue markings on all the drains and manholes on Cork’s Grand Parade, each an expression of the Government’s security anxieties around the visit to Ireland of a couple whose combined ages reach 175 years.

Yet they’ll carry on, from libraries to market stalls to Tyndall’s nanotechnology, even though the queen could probably find her way blindfold around any factory, aerospace, market-place or microsystems fabrication facility you care to mention, while a stud, such as the Irish National Stud in Co Kildare, recently listed as suitable for a national fire-sale, is just like home to her.

The lifestyle of this monarch and her consort may suggest that they live in a different world. But do they? The queen has a Facebook site; she’s the patron of the Royal Pigeon Racing Association; her horse Carlton House (wouldn’t you know it!) won the Dante Stakes at York last week, and her personal assistant and dresser Angela Kelly comes from a Liverpool council house. And look at the fashion furore in England over the queen’s handbag. The simple square cream purse at the recent wedding has stirred the younger fashionistas who, according to designers Launer London, are responsible for a 60% increase in sales of similar traditionally-styled bags. Trend-setting at £85? Bealtaine still has some catching up to do.


1. Only British royal to be trained in how to change a spark plug.

2. Young princess was home schooled with her sister Margaret.

3. Enrolled as a Girl Guide when she was 11, later becoming a Sea Ranger.

4. Is legally allowed to drive without a licence or a registration plate. She doesn’t have a passport.

5. Owns and breeds thoroughbreds and visits race meetings to watch her horses run.

6. She is patron to more than 600 charities.

7. Introduced a new breed of dog known as the “dorgi”, a corgi mated with a dachshund.

8. One of her footmen was demoted for feeding the royal corgis whiskey.

9. First British monarch to celebrate a diamond wedding anniversary.

10. She is 5ft 4in or 160cm tall.

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