By Jason Michael

MUCH OF THE CENTRE OF DUBLIN was closed off today on account of a visit to the city by members of the Royal family – namely, Prince Harry and his new wife Princess Harry of Wales (formerly Meaghan), the Duke and Duchess of Sussex. There is only one tiny detail in this royal visitation which upsets a great many people in Ireland – myself included: Ireland doesn’t have a royal family. As an independent republic, this country is more than willing, as it has shown, to welcome the Queen of England as a visiting head of state from a neighbouring country – but Harry and Meaghan are not heads of state. They are the grandson and his wife of the British head of state, and that gives them no special privileges when visiting Ireland or any other former British colony.

In my time in this city I have had the honour and dubious honour of running into A-list celebrities on the street on their visits to the city. I have bumped into Bono, Bill Clinton, John Major, Gerry Adams, Sean Connery, Billy Connolly, former US Vice-President Joe Biden, and most recently His Holiness Bob Geldof. Some of them had security, most didn’t, but streets were not shut down and the city was not brought to a stand-still. That privilege is reserved only for important heads of state. It happened when the Elizabeth II and when President Obama visited the city.

Coming out of the Nassau Street gate of Trinity College when I was an undergrad I quite literally ran into Bill Clinton. He was flanked by a number of men-in-black, but I did get to shake his hand. What else does one do? Okay, I did apply some hand sanitiser after the brief encounter – you never know where his hands have been. While working on Dawson Street I waited for a sandwich at a deli where Billy Connolly was maybe three slots ahead of me. Sadly, I never got the chance to say hello – as he had already told a young woman to “fuck off” when she tried her luck.

Dublin is one of those cities. I swear, if you sit on College Green long enough you will meet everyone you’ve ever seen on television. But this wasn’t possible with Harry and Meaghan because they were given a type of privileged treatment by the state to which they had no right. Why wasn’t it possible for average Dubliners to meet Harry and Meaghan on the street? What’s so important about them? I have no issue with the pair of them coming to Dublin, but I have a real problem with them being given the full royal treatment in a country that fought a bitter war of independence to get rid of these people, and I have a real problem when the powers that be in Trinity College get in touch telling me to relocate my bicycle because it “may pose a security risk.”

Admittedly, there’s a very good reason these newlyweds can’t come to Dublin without all the fuss. We’re not naïve. There is no shortage of people on this island – who have the means – who’d like nothing better than to blow them sky high. Harry’s mother’s ex-husband’s grand-uncle, Lord Louis Mountbatten discovered this to his cost while lobster-potting off the coast of Sligo in 1979.

Very few in Dublin or in Ireland want any harm to come to Harry and Meaghan. Thankfully those days are over, and the IRA has conceded that the assassination of Lord Mountbatten was unnecessary. I’m not going to condone violence, and I’m certainly not engaged in any active plot against these young people, but we have to accept that the threat to them, however real or imagined, is rooted in something real on the island of Ireland – history.

Neither Harry nor Meaghan are personally responsible for that awful history – and that’s a real shame for them, but while we or they like it or not they are very much symbols of that still raw and painful history of England’s vicious and cruel domination of Ireland. As members of the same royal family that perpetrated these crimes – and while they are here as royals – it is difficult for many in Ireland to welcome them. It was painful that they visited the Famine Museum which records the history of starvation caused by British policy, it was an insult to see them in Croke Park where British troops opened fire on civilians, it was infuriating to see them walk on the quays, past the famine monument, where the famine ships left for Australia and America.

As royals of the same royal family that did this to Ireland, it would be different had they come to apologise for the barbarity of British rule on this island and for the part Queen Victoria – “the Famine Queen” – played in the utter ruin of Ireland during the Great Famine, but they didn’t. Harry and Meaghan came – as British royals – to play the part of international celebrities, stars we were all expected to flock to see. They didn’t seem to notice how empty the streets were, how so few people turned out to welcome them. No one wanted them here – especially on the day England was playing Croatia in the semi-finals of the World Cup; a day when everyone in Ireland was shouting for Croatia for the same reasons no one wanted to see them.

Part of this makes me sad. Ireland, my adopted home, prides itself in its Fáilte – it’s world famous warm Irish welcome. I’d like to welcome Harry and Meaghan to my city. I’d love the opportunity to cheek them on the street the way I did “Sir” Bob Geldof – former freeman of Dublin, but that isn’t possible. In Dublin Geldof is “a massive flaccid prick,” but he can be forgiven. The same is true of “tax dodger” Bono. Ireland forgives. Sure, it has even forgiven Roy Keane after he walked out of the World Cup in Japan – and if Irish people can forgive that, they can forgive 800 years of rape, murder, and oppression by the English. But that forgiveness demands a genuine effort on the part of the guilty. Keane volunteered with the Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind for years.

Coming here in the time-honoured way British royal newlyweds toured the Empire isn’t exactly the apology and contrition people have in mind. We don’t want them to parade who they are in our faces. We feckin’ well know who they are! Let them come as Mr and Mrs Windsor-Mountbatten, tourists and honeymooners from England – fine. But if they want to come to Ireland as a Duke and Duchess of the English monarchy – as titled heirs of the famine queen, then let them come to honour our dead, acknowledge their family’s and their state’s guilt, and make a full public apology. This done, I would be the first to shake their hands and say: Fáilte!


Harry and Meghan visit famine memorial in Dublin

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