Tom Kelly on why na­tion­al­ists should wish them well,

When Sinn Fein are as happy at Wind­sor Cas­tle as at an ard fheis, there’s no rea­son why na­tion­al­ists shouldn’t sit back and en­joy the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, writes Tom Kelly

Belfast Telegraph - - FRONT PAGE - Tom Kelly is a na­tion­al­ist com­men­ta­tor

As I start to write this col­umn about the forth­com­ing royal wedding, I am look­ing at a lit­tle ce­ramic plaque made for me at a lo­cal play­group by two tal­ented chil­dren of friends in May 2006. It’s got loads of colours — white, green, or­ange, blue and red. Its in­scrip­tion, hand-painted with bal­loons, sim­ply says: “Con­grat­u­la­tions Tom OBE — Dervila xo and John ox.” It’s been in the same place in my home since it was given to me. Which is more than can be said for the ac­tual OBE, which I seem to have tem­po­rar­ily mis­placed.

Cer­tainly, I re­mem­ber giv­ing away my minia­ture medal as a gift to a for­mer col­league, who now works for one of the ma­jor po­lit­i­cal par­ties in the Re­pub­lic. Back in 2006, tak­ing an OBE was big news for some­one from my back­ground. Nat­u­rally, it at­tracted crit­i­cism from the usual sus­pects. I wasn’t un­duly fazed by it. As I said at the time, I had not mur­dered any­one, but I did want to show, par­tic­u­larly to the union­ist com­mu­nity, that I was com­fort­able in my own iden­tity.

As Sea­mus Heaney said: “My pass­port was green. No glass of ours was ever raised to toast the Queen”. Well, it wouldn’t have been. I grew up in Newry. Un­like Heaney, who con­fessed to hold­ing a Bri­tish pass­port be­fore an Ir­ish one, I only ever held an Ir­ish pass­port un­til re­cently (but it’s doubt­ful, with Brexit, that I will be re­new­ing my Bri­tish one).

John He­witt got it right: “I am an Ul­ster­man, Ir­ish­man, Bri­tish and Eu­ro­pean”. Like Heaney, de­spite the pub­lic rhetoric, I had also met the Queen twice be­fore. Both times con­nected to when Newry re­ceived city sta­tus in 2002.

The de­ci­sion taken to seek city sta­tus meant that those of us in civic so­ci­ety, al­beit in a mainly na­tion­al­ist district, had to make a con­scious ef­fort to be truly in­clu­sive with union­ist res­i­dents, many of whom felt alien­ated by the lo­cal ma­jor­ity com­mu­nity.

We were suc­cess­ful in our out­reach and it may sur­prise some read­ers to know that we hosted a Queen’s Ju­bilee Ex­hi­bi­tion in Newry as part of that out­reach. My first drink to celebrate city sta­tus was taken with Mrs Nummy, a publi­can and prom­i­nent mem­ber of the lo­cal union­ist com­mu­nity, in what was then the Crown Bar.

Much has changed since 2006. Nowa­days, Sinn Fein lead­ers are as com­fort­able in Wind­sor Cas­tle as at an ard fheis, es­pe­cially since the Queen man­aged a “cu­pla fo­cail as gaeilge” and Prince Philip han­dled a “ca­man agus slio­tar” while in Dublin.

Re­cip­ro­cal state vis­its fol­lowed by run-of-the-mill trips by Prince Charles, Camilla and sec­ond-tier roy­als have be­come com­mon­place. Even the late, lamented Sea­mus Heaney ad­mit­ted that he had been toast­ing the Queen quite a few times over the years.

So, too, the late Martin McGuin­ness, even with the cam­era on him, never seemed un­com­fort­able as he chat­ted away mer­rily to the Queen.

One sus­pects Her Majesty found him a lot more in­ter­est­ing than most of the peo­ple she has to meet.

So, it’s dif­fi­cult to un­der­stand why any­one would get ex­er­cised enough to in­tim­i­date a Done­gal hote­lier to can­cel a planned royal af­ter­noon tea ex­pe­ri­ence on the wedding day of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.

These buck ee­jits rep­re­sent no one. They cer­tainly are not repub­li­cans; true repub­li­cans be­lieve in free­dom of ex­pres­sion and as­so­ci­a­tion.

A poll sug­gests over a third of peo­ple liv­ing in the Re­pub­lic will tune in to the royal wedding. I suspect the num­ber will be higher.

Royal is the new celebrity and an Amer­i­can ac­tress will at­tract more than the usual ca­bal of royal fans.

Those liv­ing in na­tion­al­ist communities in North­ern Ire­land are un­likely to be putting the bunt­ing up, or rush­ing to buy Mr Ki­pling cakes with the happy cou­ple’s image, but they are no less im­mune to what seems like an ac­tual true ro­mance.

Af­ter all, we Ir­ish cher­ish an auld ro­mance, whether it be from our Celtic cul­ture, theatre, or pol­i­tics.

Love has been at the heart of many an Ir­ish fa­ble or event — whether its leg­ends of Grainne and Diar­muid, or Tris­tan and Iseult, Par­nell and Kitty O’Shea, or Os­car Wilde and Lord Dou­glas, or WB Yeats and Maud Gonne, or Michael Collins and Kitty Kier­nan and, last but not least, Joseph Mary Plun­kett and Grace Gif­ford, who was im­mor­talised in the song Grace.

So, it’s highly un­likely that some bi­b­li­cal-like green mist will de­scend on the homes of na­tion­al­ists who opt to catch a glimpse of Bri­tain’s most fa­mous soap stars — the roy­als.

Notwith­stand­ing the Mex­i­can stand-off be­tween union­ist and repub­li­can lead­ers, it’s hard to be­lieve that the most ar­dent of repub­li­can sup­port­ers wouldn’t of­fer a young cou­ple ev­ery happiness at the start of their mar­ried life.

Ir­ish­ness is not di­luted by tak­ing an in­ter­est in the af­fairs of our near­est neigh­bours; it cer­tainly isn’t di­min­ished by show­ing gen­eros­ity, or re­spect, for a tra­di­tion, even if it’s not per­ceived as be­ing a shared tra­di­tion.

Only a few weeks ago, Prince Harry and his fiancee, Meghan Markle, met with lit­er­ally thou­sands of our young peo­ple at a shared-space event or­gan­ised by Co-op­er­a­tion Ire­land.

The wel­come they got was phe­nom­e­nal.

Co-op­er­a­tion Ire­land is chaired by an English­man of Ir­ish de­scent, Christopher Mo­ran, and it has board mem­bers as di­verse as Pe­ter Robin­son and John Bru­ton, along with other union­ists and repub­li­cans.

Last month, the Ir­ish em­bassy in Lon­don worked closely with Co-op­er­a­tion Ire­land, the DUP mem­bers of par­lia­ment and South Ar­magh-born, now Bri­tish Labour MP Conor McGinn to mark the cen­te­nary of the death of Ir­ish na­tion­al­ist and par­lia­men­tar­ian John Red­mond at West­min­ster.

Na­tion­al­ists won’t be ag­i­tated about the royal wedding.

It’s an oc­ca­sion that’s more about celebrity than iden­tity.

North­ern Ire­land is a changed place.

There’s an Ir­ish proverb: “An lamb ab heir‘ si ag heibh !”, which seems ap­pro­pri­ate for a wedding, which, when trans­lated, means, “The hand that gives is the hand that gets”.

I suspect Martin McGuin­ness un­der­stood that when he went to meet with the Queen and it’s that type of gen­eros­ity which has trans­formed some as­pects of our so­ci­ety for the bet­ter and for ever.

❝ True repub­li­cans are those who be­lieve in free­dom of ex­pres­sion and of as­so­ci­a­tion

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, left. Martin McGuin­ness meets the Queen, above, and the Done­gal ho­tel that re­ceived threats for its royal wedding celebration plans

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