Today, outside the GPO, I saw around four or five members from Fianna na hÉireann hold their flag and post ‘Oppose Queen Elizabeth’s Visit to Ireland’. At first, I thought “Hmm, there’s that group”, then I thought “hmmm, ah... I’m not sure about that.” Naturally, as a proud Irishman, I could never bow to her, but I do believe her visit will be a great benefit. My instinctual response to the news, a few weeks ago, was along the lines of “when we sent the British soldiers to the ships, we believed we had given them one-way tickets, and that no monarch of that tyrannical system shall ever again set foot on the land which was so brutally wasted, as were its people, in the name of its emblems for so long.” But then two arguments in favour of her visit came, first, from my Tourism-based acumen, and, today, from my sociological train of thought. I can perceive only one, though unlikely, disadvantage. No, wait, two, and the second is scarily possible. I’ll talk about those later, but let’s discuss the benefits.
Her visit will focus the British public’s eyes on Ireland, but not, as was the norm for the present generation, with a ‘Northern’ hue. This visit is not scheduled in order to quench a rebellion or to assess the deforestation of Irish oak for her navy, but merely a tour of leisure. Her experiences and those that are broadcasted by the media will impact upon the British for decades to come. This visit, and the memories that are carried from it, will create the image of Ireland for millions of British people. If she has a bad experience, or if the media present it as such, bad news for Ireland – but the British will not bat an eyelid at this as bad news is what they’re use to hearing associated with the word ‘Ireland’. However, if the visit is communicated with positivity, it will do wonders for Irish tourism and British-Irish relations. Enough essay-rhetoric. Here’s my subjective opinion:
Well, what angers me most about the British (or English) was not just the atrocities that were executed in Ireland over the centuries by tyrannical British rule, but that, shockingly, their education system fails to recognise them! For the majority, they have no idea why Irish people would have an aversion to the English people. Not even the IRA bombings in Britain would stimulate their interest in why such drastic actions had been taken by unofficial representatives of other nation against their own nation. [Prepare yourselves for the next bit. I make some strong statements, but they're there to make my point. They are based on my own empirical evidence.] If ignorance of their neighbours is bliss, then the British people are in Disneyland. On top of history, the English (judging by ‘Who Wants to be a Millionaire?’ questions) are terrible at geography, despite the blatant fact that they had not quite a little empire for a period there. (I asked an English lady how many counties were in England and she said she did not know!) It seems that, if the Irish are cursed with poverty, the English are cursed with ignorance.
I believe that the English need to learn a substantial amount (I would be inclined to say ‘more’ here, but I don’t think it applies) about Irish history and that they recognise Irish identity in contrast to their own. The Queen’s visit will be the spark for this. They will begin wondering what that little island beside them has been doing there for so long and why haven’t they noticed it before now? This will incredibly boost tourist numbers coming from England to Ireland. With a hugely increased British-originated interest in Ireland, their education system should, in time, begin to explain the whole Anglo-Irish ‘affair’.
The first disadvantage of this visit may be, though highly unlikely, that so many of them will come over here that it’ll be more of an invasion than a holiday (think of English-dominated Spanish resorts!), and that before you know it, Ireland will once again have more English people than she would like. And if you thought, like I do, that Ireland is far too English at present, it could get unimaginably worse: Guy Fawkes Night; all people in Mayo with Liverpool accents; etc. Irelandshire. Oh God, no!
The second disadvantage, and as I described as ‘scarily possible’, could be that we welcome the Queen, her entourage and all the connotations of the whole Royal Visit a bit too readily and openly. I’m not talking about the whole ‘sheep under the arm, leprechaun in the vicinity’ shite. I’m referring to possibility that the Irish people may start, ever so gradually and slightly, most not even noticing, to regard The Queen of England as The Queen, or, disgracefully, as Our Queen. I can’t listen to the English national anthem without squirming for silence. Could it be that our present aversion for republicanism, patriotism, nationalism, etc., caused by the less than admirable actions of its most notable (which means ‘extreme’) endorsers, has become so acute that we’d rather lean away from national pride than towards it? Would we sooner accept the waving of the Union Flag that begin to wave our own flag? I think that’s a real prospect. And with that weighing up against the initially positive consequences of this visit, I’m feeling a bit sea sick. Should we risk it? Right now, I believe we should take that risk. I’m not happy the ways things are, and if there’s an opportunity for change, with a good chance of a change for the better, I’ll take that chance.
What we’ll all be relying on is not what happens during the visit, be it good or bad, but how the British media will relate the visit and all its events to the British public. All we can hope is that the media won’t let their prejudices severely limit the degree of attention that the visit deserves (and make redundant most of what I’ve just bothered writing). And hopefully, the attention will be focused mainly on the positives.