Today is the last day of the state visit of The Queen of England to the Republic of Ireland. The citizens now only have the visit of The President of The United States of America to host. (See May Visitations. March Demises. 25th March 2011).
A comic song of Dublin (53 degrees North, 6 degrees West) goes:
The Queen she came to call on us, she came to call on all of us
I'm glad she didn't fall on us, she's eighteen stone.
So take her up to Monto, Monto, Monto
Take her up to Monto, langeroo
The song, though written in 1958 by the music critic of The Irish Times, George Hodnett, refers to Queen Victoria. The current British monarch is very far from eighteen stone. She is, in fact, a slim and sprightly octogenarian, seen bending to wield a garden spade to good effect at a tree planting with The Irish President, Mary McAleese, in Áras an Uachtaráin, Dublin. A Belfast (54 degrees North, 5 degrees West) woman, the President is chiselling her name into the history books as a champion of reconciliation, accelerating a peace process she has advanced forcefully throughout her public life, now that the end of her Presidency draws near.
It won't make a film title like its gendered opposite but The Queen's speech at a Dublin Castle banquet, during which she wore an ultra-bling dress and tiara she could sell to feed a refugee camp, used the language of disappointment - we could have done things differently or not at all – in an attempt to say something positive about the historical legacy of the colonial relationship between two neighbouring islands.
The people of England are re-evaluating their imperial past. That it is a wealthy and nuclear-armed country today is a legacy of that imperial past. Some discomfort is being experienced among political and military elites that the British Prime Minister and the monarch are using the language of wrongdoers - regret, sorry, should not have happened - with familiarity and ease, but historical legacy issues appear increasingly present on public agendas as pressure from below has greater and greater effect. The elites know they must manage this pressure in order to maintain control.
In Ireland, there is some energy coming from elites to lance the boils of the past. One of the most inflamed and daunting of these is a damning legacy of urban poverty. The British monarch did not, in fact, get taken up to Monto, Dublin's historical red-light district, made famous by James Joyce in the Night Town sequence of Ulysses. Monto, as such, is gone, but the north inner city remains notoriously poor, full of native poor and an increasing immigrant poor population, not to be seen by The Queen, and certainly not allowed within an ass' roar of the banquet in Dublin Castle.
The inner city is clamped in a ring of cold blue steel formed by Gardaí and elite Army personnel. Dissident republican threats necessitate this. The obverse side of the ludicrous actions of militant republicans are the fawning and the kow-towing the Queen's visit elicits. Hardly surprising, as Ireland is a young republic, with a long history of royalty holding sway, both indigenous ones, regional and national, and foreign ones of English-Norman, Dutch, Scottish and, in the current case, German origins.
Hodnett's song also has the lines:
Mister Milord the Mayor says she,
Is this all you've got to show for me,
Why no Mam there's more to see, 'Póg Mo Thóin'.
The Irish translates to English as 'kiss my arse', a line for citizens corralled behind police lines perhaps?