You could not mistake the atmosphere in Dublin this week: the state visit of the Queen and Prince Philip has had the full panoply of a historic occasion. It was obvious that the Irish state was wholeheartedly committed to its success, with the most formal protocols in place. Both David Cameron and William Hague have accompanied the Queen for part of the trip, which is highly unusual. The Queen agreed to visit locations associated with those who rose against the Crown — the Garden of Remembrance in Parnell Square — and showed a graceful sense of respect. It has been impressive and even moving. Yet it was also sad — at least in Dublin. Because there is a small but extremely violent minority of dissenters, Dublin city was eerily empty of people. Security barriers blocked off all the main thoroughfares. The desolation of the city streets enhanced, in a way, the beauty of the buildings. Strange to think that hardly a generation ago there were Irish politicians who wanted to knock down Georgian Dublin because it was ‘ancien regime’, and fill the spaces with concrete car parks. Thanks to the wonderful Desmond Guinness (Max Mosley’s halfbrother), most of Georgian Dublin was saved, and it looked especially glorious as the royal party sped by.
It is always a matter of controversy when an important visitor comes to town: who gets invited to the various swell receptions and who doesn’t. There has been some grumbling that the focus has been either on the political class or on celebrities, though it was sweet to see national treasure Edna O’Brien, who was 80 this year, and Rachel Allen, the delightful chef from Ballymaloe, appear at the President’s lunch for the Queen, along with the likes of John Hume and David Trimble. But there was some feeling that the British ambassador, Julian King, might have invited to his soirée some who really did make a solid contribution to advancing Anglo-Irish understanding, and of rescuing from history those Irishmen and women who had also served the Crown. Kevin
Myers, for instance, almost single-handedly brought to light the Irishmen in the 1914–18 war who were, until the 1990s, sidelined by Irish official history. But he was not invited. Eoghan Harris, who has written extensively about the Protestants of West Cork and how badly they were treated, was also omitted, as were the peace campaigners Chris Hudson MBE and Barbara Fitzgerald CBE. I realise that when you’re giving a party, there are regretful omissions. But Myers, especially, deserves honour for the work he has done and I suggest the Royal Irish Academy make him a Fellow forthwith.
The pop singer Morrissey, in the know-nothing tradition of his ilk, has criticised the Queen for not having intervened to save the hunger striker Bobby Sands’s life. As if she could have done. As it happens, in 1920, Queen Mary did write to Lloyd George to ask him to intervene to save the life of Terence MacSwiney, the Lord Mayor of Cork, then on hunger strike. Queen Mary’s own son, John, had recently died, and she phrased the letter personally, writing ‘as a mother’. Lloyd George gave her a sharp rebuff and accused her of meddling in politics. The political view was that she had stepped over the constitutional line.
Following the Queen’s state visit to the Irish Republic, the President of Ireland will pay a reciprocal state visit to the United Kingdom. That will be a jollier occasion. And it may turn out to be gay, too: a popular favourite to be the next Irish president is Senator David Norris, a clever and charming gay man. (President Mary McAleese’s term finishes in November this year.) Senator Norris has been a conscientious Senator for Trinity College Dublin and organised a brave Peace Train between Dublin and Belfast during the Troubles. He is also a Joycean scholar, a devout Irish Anglican, a beautiful Irish speaker and can deliver a droll stand-up comedy act.
Norris has had a struggle to secure the nomination for the presidency — you have to obtain the backing of either four county councils or 20 members of the Oireachtas (parliament) — but he’s getting there. He is an outsider because he is not officially endorsed by any of the main political parties, traditionally the gatekeepers to the Irish presidency. If he gets the nomination, he will have beaten the party machine: a triumph for individual bravura.
Next Monday, Ireland welcomes American President Barack Obama, who turns out to be 3 per cent Irish. Mr Obama’s great-great-great grandfather was dug up, metaphorically, by a lively clergyman and amateur genealogist, Canon Stephen Neil of Moneygall in County Offaly. Mr Obama, with the full force of the American security apparatus, will now descend on Moneygall, a small village with a population of 299. So strict are the protection regulations that the American President will not be permitted to partake of the traditional pint of Guinness in the one local hostelry. It is pleasing, however, that Mr Obama should be making this Irish journey to discover his mother’s roots. His autobiography was so obsessively focused on his Kenyan father that his mother, Ann Dunham, was rather overlooked. But she was a most remarkable woman. Obama has come to acknowledge her importance to his development, and the role of his maternal grandparents. It was Ann’s forebear, Falmouth Kearney, who emigrated from Co. Offaly in 1850, a Protestant artisan driven forth by the conditions prevailing after the Great Famine. And shopfronts are now bearing the moniker O’Bama.
the spectator | 21 May 2011 | www.spectator.co.uk Rod Liddle
Hell hath no fury like a public-spirited ex-wife
Ithink we’re all very relieved that Vicky Pryce, the estranged wife of the Cabinet minister Chris Huhne, is not motivated by revenge in writing a book about her exhusband and dobbing him in to the police. If the book was motivated by spite and revenge because Chris had recently dumped her for a strange mannish woman who everso-slightly resembles the late TV comedian Jack Douglas, I think we’d all feel a little unclean reading it. But Vicky insists that it was written in order to let people know how terribly difficult it can be if you’re married to a senior politician — so, in a sense, she has written the book out of open-hearted kindness and a sense of decency.
Similarly, one supposes, her willingness to testify to the police that Chris allegedly persuaded her to cop for his speeding ticket eight years ago is also motivated by a sense of decency and nobility, albeit a sense of decency and nobility which has been somewhat sluggish in manifesting itself.You would hope that the old bill will have a chance to read Vicky’s book, acquaint themselves with her sense of decency and nobility and therefore not charge her for having accepted the speeding penalty in the first case, i.e. before the decency and nobility wandered along. If indeed she did accept the points penalty, as she is now fervently claiming to anyone who will listen. In terms of seriousness the two offences are not terribly different, even if for one party they will mean a destroyed political career and for the other a sort of bitter, pyrrhic victory. When Vicky broke the law, if she did break the law, she did so out of loyalty; now she is coming clean out of a burning disloyalty.
I was not clear in my own mind, incidentally, that I wanted to learn much more about Chris Huhne than I knew already (which is very little). If asked, I would have guessed that the skeletons in his closet, if he had any at all, wore single-breasted grey suits from Next and Hush Puppies and talked endlessly to each other about convergence criteria for joining the single currency. The kinds of skeletons you would do your best to avoid at a party. I mean, this is Chris Huhne we are talking about, not Charlie Sheen or Errol Flynn, or even George Brown.And so it has proved: out of that sense of decency and nobility and a wish to let people know how difficult it is being married to a politician, Vicky has squeezed her bile duct dry and the best she’s come up with is an illegal and fantastically dull alleged transgression which took place before Huhne was even an MP, so long ago that there is considerable doubt as to whether it happened at all. There is regrettably no sex with animals, there are
What is the bigger transgression: leaving your wife, or doing everything you possibly can to destroy your ex-husband’s ministerial career?
no crack cocaine binges, or intimations of megalomania — unless she’s saving these up for later instalments. These candid revelations from Ms Pryce are of the kind which make the likes of Menzies Campbell appear a bit racy. So far it appears that Chris Huhne was sufficiently ruthless in his ambition to expect his missus to sacrifice a few points on her driving licence for him, allegedly. And that’s about it.
The whole business reminds one of that other bastion of nobility and decency, Margaret Cook, the spurned wife of Robin Cook. When Robin binned Margaret for his research assistant Gaynor Regan, Margaret also launched into print. ‘I am really not motivated by revenge of any description,’
‘Does the bird then tweet about it?’
the spectator | 21 May 2011 | www.spectator.co.uk
Margaret told the press before very decently revealing that Cookie was pissed half the time, had shagged half a dozen other women before Gaynor and hated every one of his colleagues, especially Gordon and Peter. And similarly unmotivated by revenge, she popped up in the press or on TV every time any other married bloke in the public eye had been caught with his trousers down in an unfamiliar place, giving her verdict on what it was like to be married to someone who took their trousers down quite regularly and how Cookie was pissed half the time, etc etc. The other connection between these two stories, of Cook and Huhne, is that Margaret Cook also slightly resembles the late comedian Jack Douglas. That — and the sense of decency and nobility which undoubtedly motivated both women.
I hate to get all hand-wringing, but I do wonder what is the bigger moral transgression: leaving your wife for a woman who looks a bit like Jack Douglas, or doing everything you possibly can to destroy your exhusband’s career because he has left you for a woman who looks a bit like Jack Douglas. They are both bad, I suppose, both occasioned by human weakness, both essentially destructive acts which cause pain to other people. But our opprobrium in such cases appends to only one party — largely because we seem to enjoy reading the dirt, the filth, when it is published, and do so with a rather smug sense of self-righteousness.And we can only have that self-righteousness if we exculpate the supposedly injured party: in both of the cases I have mentioned, the women.
And there does seem to be something inside us which yearns for this sort of misery and revels in it. Take a look at the way in which the television personality Jeremy Clarkson is being hounded right now because the tabloids have got a whiff of a suspicion that his marriage might be in trouble. They, and presumably the readers, cannot quite contain their glee.
Spectator.co.uk/rodliddle Room for debate.