Being driven home on Wednesday evening through the Phoenix Park after a week in St. James’s Hospital, I was struck by gratitude for two things, the kindness of the hospital staff and the care and efficiency of the OPW who keep that most important of public spaces looking so neat and yet so vibrant. I know as a nation we face many problems but in so many ways we are so fortunate. I remember darker days.
Perhaps on this day of the Coronation of King Charles III it is good to reflect on this general theme. Often in my life I have said the Irish Nation is “a sea fed by many streams”. This can at times be confusing, even contradictory. Michelle O’Neill, the Sinn Féin First Minister Designate of Northern Ireland will be at today’s coronation. I welcome her attendance. It is clear to me that she understands that the Irish nation is a sea fed by many streams. By attending this event, she is not diluting her nationalism, she is strengthening it. In a very real sense, she is continuing the journey that Martin McGuinness embarked on when he shook the late Queen’s hand. We must all learn to live together on this shared island with its complexities and different identities.
I have lived with these contradictions all my life. I was born in Dublin and spent my childhood in Slane, Co. Meath. Sent by my parents to a British public school, I acquired the nickname “Boggy”. Returning home to live in 1976 I was often referred to as a West Brit. I was also heir to a peerage which I inherited in 2009 on the death of my father, making me, an Irishman, a peer of the realm. Still I well remember the day the bulk of the hereditary peers were removed from the House of Lords because that night I was having dinner with my good friend, the late great and memorable Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Mo Mowlam. She greeted me with a tumbler of whiskey and said: “Now, Henry, how does it feel like to be extinct?” But back to today. As it happens, beside my bed I have an engraving of the Marquess of Anglesey, from whom I am directly descended, the hero of Waterloo, carrying St. Edward’s crown at the coronation of George IV. My great-great-great-grandmother was George IV’s last mistress. In 1953 my grandparents attended the late Queen’s coronation. They bought a brand-new set of robes for the occasion. The new King has largely dispensed with the aristocracy for his coronation. So, if I wish, I’ll just have to swear allegiance from my sofa. The question remains, what about giving what are now my robes an outing? Maybe I will don the coronet and robes and take a selfie in the Castle Ballroom, remember Freddie Mercury wearing his crown below, and hope above all for the new King that the Duke of Sussex keeps his trap shut.
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