Friday, 4 April 2014

Perfidious Albion! - Or Why Michael D Higgins Should Avoid The Tower Of London - Just To Be On The Safe Side

* History again - and this blog to mark the visit by Ireland's President Michael D Higgins to the UK - historic but hardly unique (if we use a bit of licence).

Our President - Up for The Craic

* President Michael D's imminent visit to the UK is a historic first for an Irish head of state! Except, of course, it isn't.

If we stretch the definition (and why not, let's have a bit of fun with it) Michael D. is only the latest in a long line of Irish leaders to cross the Irish sea. Let's just hope his visit doesn't end, as previous ones have, in a cell in The Tower, or with him dangling from the end of a rope. And to be fair, you wouldn't put it past Elizabeth II, her famous name-sake (Liz I) had a bit of an itchy trigger finger and it's possible this whole "Let's Be Friends & Good Neighbours!" thing is just an elaborate Saxon ruse to get our Chieftain over to London and lock him in a dungeon. The British have got good reason to want some payback, there's 800 years of trouble plus Jedward and Louis Walsh for a start. Perfidious Albion! (also, Vitreous China!)

Grace O'Malley - Some Artistic Licence May Be Involved

Silken Thomas - Check the proto-Hipster Beard.

Going on previous form, a visit to London by an Irish leader can be a very tricky affair. Some, like Grace O'Malley (Gráinne Ní Mháille), the formidable Pirate Queen Of Connacht, charmed monarchs and won friends in high places - others, such as Gerald Fitzgerald, Earl of Kildare and father of Silken Thomas - the 16th century hipster who killed in designer gear - ended up dead in The Tower.

When Silken Thomas, so called because of his love of fine clothes. heard rumours (which turned out to be false and a British trap) that his dad had been executed in London, he staged one of those curiously half-arsed revolutions which have so characterised Ireland's relations with England.

Silken's Rising failed (though you couldn't fault the guy on the outfits he chose for his soldiers) and he got the noose in London together with five of his uncles. A family affair. As one chronicler put it, they were; ""...draune from the Tower in to Tyborne, and there alle hongyd and hedded and quartered, save the Lord Thomas for he was but hongyd and hedded and his body buried at the Crost Freeres in the qwere..."

His father had already died of "grief" in the Tower (2nd September, 1534), having heard of Silken's rash rising against the Crown. Gerald FitzGerald was buried in the Chapel Royal of St Peter ad Vincula in the Tower. Far from the Curragh of Kildare.

Later on at the start of the 17th century, Red Hugh O'Donnell, the canny Lord of Tir Connell (and King of Donegal) high-tailed it to London as soon as he heard of the accession of King James to the throne and got a gracious reception. But Hugh ended up making enemies at the court, made jealous by the hearty reception he got from the Scottish-born monarch (who always had an eye for a well-turned-out man).
Red Hugh - Largin' It In Ibiza

The peace treaty he signed was almost immediately nullified by the British Administration in Dublin. And when Hugh was "invited" back to London for fresh talks in 1607, he got a tip-off that he would be travelling to a cold prison cell so instead high-tailed it into exile in Spain, leading the Flight of the Earls. 

Centuries later, Michael Collins went on a session with Winston Churchill (they ended up singing rebel songs and reciting poetry together) but came home with a bit of a hangover ("this morning, I signed my own death warrant" and all that).

Collins knew exactly what his fate was likely to be. Churchill later remarked of seeing Cork's General accept the final terms; "Michael Collins rose looking as if he was going to shoot someone, preferably himself. In all my life I have never seen so much passion and suffering in restraint".

Eamon De Valera went to London several times - have a look here at how the newsreel cameras & commentators got in some casual racism in 1938 - and we can only guess what Neville Chamberlain, Lloyd George and their ministers were put through by Dev. 

Of course Dev had been in Britain before, as a guest of her Majesty in Lincoln Prison. The British have a mania for locking up Irish leaders (bear that in mind, Michael D.)

On his return in 1938 as leader of the Irish Free State/Republic/Whatever You're Having Yourself - Dev no doubt caught the boat-train to the heart of Saxon territory clutching his rosary beads and reciting the Nine Sorrowful Mysteries against the blandishments of the Godless Prods. He might even have caught sight of a woman's ankle. The Bloodless Fecker. 

There's the famous story about a very posh British minister visiting Dublin for talks with De Valera during the Economic War in the '30s. Dev was in the habit of lecturing visiting British politicians about the long and sorry history of famine and oppression. At some length. He loved a captive audience. Having been one himself at the hands of the British.

So when the English politician emerged from day two of the Irish-British history lesson and was asked by reporters how the talks were going, he is said to have replied; "Oh very well indeed. We're up to 1798". 

The most successful visit so far by an Irish leader to the British Court must be that of Grace O'Malley - the Take No Shite Pirate Queen of the Western Seaboard - to Elizabeth I in 1593.

Grace sailed her own ship from Clew Bay to London. The Sea Queen & The Virgin Queen might have been expected to be enemies. They actually got on like a house on fire. As two strong, female leaders in a world of men, two women who loved the sea and recognised the power of naval might, they must have had a lot in common. They are said to have taken tea and conversed in Latin (Grace being an Irish speaker and Elizabeth I not loving the auld coupla focal ever since she was sent home from the Gaeltacht for talking to boys during her transition year).

So let's hope Michael D gets on in London like his Western Counterpart rather than Red Hugh or Gerald Fitzgerald.

There's a lot of Irish in London at the moment (including myself) but I'm not sure if we have the expertise to spring Michael D from The Tower.



  1. Nice article. Where did you get the quote from Churchill on Collins? Great adversaries and I love that WC resented Collins' charisma and genuinosity. Best quote I can find is: He was an Irish patriot, true and fearless… When in future times the Irish Free State is not only prosperous and happy, but an active and annealing force… regard will be paid by widening circles to his life and to his death…

  2. Thanks - I've seen the quote in a good few places - there's a very good piece on the history ireland website abt Churchill & Collins - - have a look there!


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