In 1916, Irish monarchists — there were far more of them than the pageantry around centenary celebrations recognises — might have felt comfortable marking a significant milestone for a British king or queen.
That enthusiasm, or at least its public expression, was muted during the intervening century. Our nationalism was monocultural. The wounds incurred in achieving independence were too raw. Minds were closed. Babies were thrown out with the bathwater. Burn everything British, except their coal, was the catchcry.
Thankfully, we have reached a point in our relationship with our nearest neighbour, and former overlord, where we can acknowledge an exemplary life, an exemplary commitment to duty, and an impressive steadfastness in a world of flux and challenge. Queen Elizabeth, Britain’s longest-serving monarch, was 90 yesterday and has spent 64 years on the throne. As public service jobs go, that’s a pretty long innings.
The idea of monarchy is anachronistic. Another one could not be established except by a despot run mad. Nevertheless, the sense of tradition, of continuity, of public dignity, and the influence of a positive figurehead, remain valuable.
When Queen Elizabeth visited Ireland, she acknowledged that our shared past was riddled with wrong and tragedy, and by so doing she moved our relationship onto a stronger, more equitable plane. For that alone, we should all be comfortable wishing her a very happy birthday.
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