John Arnold: This proud republican would have loved to meet the royals

"I’m no fan of the British Royal family but, by hell, I admire their resilience and stiff upper lip — no matter what happens," so says John Arnold in his weekly column
John Arnold: This proud republican would have loved to meet the royals

GUESTS: The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, William and Kate, at a reception at the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin this week

AS a Blueshirt and Republican, the visit to Ireland this week of Prince William and his wife Kate was a reason for satisfaction for me.

It wasn’t just that my great grandfather Jeremiah Twomey wrote a letter of welcome to William’s ancestor Queen Victoria on her visit to this country in 1900.

Jeremiah was a member of the Ancient Order of Hibernians and worked tirelessly for farmers’ rights in the 1880s when the landlord still ruled supreme in most of Ireland.

Welcoming the old Queen to these shores 120 years ago might seem a strange course of action for an avowed Land Leaguer, but then those were strange times all over the world.

Victoria was ‘monarch’ of Ireland in the 1840s when the terrible Famine stalked the land. She was often referred to as ‘The Famine Queen’, a title not meant to be complimentary to the lady that assumed the throne in 1837. They used to say that ‘Nero fiddled as Rome burned’ and many historians claim Victoria stood idly by as Ireland suffered horribly.

Whatever she did or did not do, the truth is that as close on a million people died here from starvation and disease, thousands of tons of grain were exported to England and elsewhere from Cork and Youghal and many other Irish ports.

In 1849, Victoria paid her first visit to Ireland, arriving on Cove in August for a ten-day visit. Contemporary newspaper reports of the time say she was ‘warmly received’. It was only two years after Black ’47 and the Irish were a broken and bowed populace — probably with no strength or appetite for a protest against the royal visitor.

What brings me satisfaction about William’s visit this week is the way it was just regarded as a normal visit by a possible future head of state to a neighbouring country — nothing more, nothing less. I’m no fan of the British Royal family but, by hell, I admire their resilience and stiff upper lip — no matter what happens.

William may some day become King of England but he’s his own man so I’m glad we’ve got a bit away from heaping the sins of the past on the shoulders of the present.

In 1649, Oliver Cromwell came to Ireland to wage war against the Irish, who had not bowed the knee to the English crown. Though in this country for around nine months, he waged a campaign of murder, pillage and destruction. His son-in-law Henry Ireton took over when Oliver went back to England, but Ireton soon succumbed to illness and his preserved body was sent back in a barrel for burial.

Here in Ireland, Charles Fleetwood and a certain Captain John Arnold carried on the work of ethnic cleansing against the mainly catholic Irish population. That was in the 1650s and less than a century later, a John Arnold was Collector of Poll Tax for the English Government in the Castlelyons area.

By the end of the 1700s, ‘our’ Arnold clan were in situ in the Rathcormac area. Logic would tend towards the belief that we might be descended in some shape or fashion from Cromwell’s henchman. ‘Perish the thought’, you might well say, but remember, we cannot pick our ancestors, no more than we can re-write history, que sera sera as they say!

I’ve heard it said many times when Prince William comes over, “Will he call to Kilshannig House, ancestral home of his late mother Lady Diana?” That’s slightly stretching the story, however, of the great house near Rathcormac. Kilshannig was built for a Cork city Quaker banker, Abraham Devonsher, in the 1760s.

Local ‘legend’ has it that he was an indomitable gambler and actually lost the house ‘on a game of cards’. Closer to the truth was a financial crash which bankrupt Devonsher. He lost his fortunes and Kilshannig house too.

The buyer was Edward Roche, father of the 1st Earl of Fermoy — Kilshannig was the ‘winter’ home of the Roches, and Trabolgan in East Cork their summer abode.

Down the line it was Maurice Roche, 4th Baron of Fermoy, who was the grandfather of Prince Williams mother.

If William and Kate were down south, they’d surely call to see the Queen’s friend Pat O’Connell in the English market! If they had an hour to spare, I could show them the ‘ Old’ Fair Field of Bartlemy.

Back in 1723, another English monarch, George I, granted Henry Rugge, a Youghal businessman, a Charter to hold Two September Fairs here each year. At one of these, Marengo, the white charger used later by Napoleon Bonaparte, was bought — poor Napoleon met his Waterloo when defeated by the Irish-born Duke of Wellington, Arthur Wellesley.

If William called we’d have to take him over to the little townland of Commons. It’s just 9 acres in total and in 1846, during the Famine, those claiming rights to the Commons were J. Leahy, B. Cronan, Ml. Marks and Queen Victoria! Despite all her power, Her Royal Majesty couldn’t hold onto the land while the Leahys are still there!

When I heard the royal couple were only staying for three days in Ireland, I said there’s no point in ’em coming here at all, at all — sure, t’would take them at least a full week to see the whole place.

I’m a Republican and proud to be one. We have our Republic and in England they have their monarchy. Two very different systems of running a country, but shure, variety is the spice of life.

After 700 years of bitterness and rancour, it’s great we can appreciate our differences and not fall out over them. England may be gone from the EU but England and Ireland will continue to be neighbours and huge trading partners into the future.

Despite all the historic ‘bad blood’ between the two countries, millions of Irish made ‘across the water’ their home and the majority prospered.

As a Blueshirt, I’m an advocate of free speech. I’m no Fascist, and to this day I deeply resent that accusation being flung against men and women from my parish and every Irish parish.

When democracy and freedom were delicate flowers here in the 1930s, our ancestors stood up for freedom of expression and freedom of association.

This week, we had a young man and his wife as our visitors. There was no doffing of caps or bowing and scraping, no ‘them and us’. The members of the royal family of England came as equals, as friends, and isn’t it great to be able to make such visitors welcome?

Our shared history has often been covered with Irish blood, a fact we can’t change. Over the next few years we will remember so many tough times. That’s our history and we can learn lessons from the past that will brighten all our futures.

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