Friday, May 13, 2011

The Queen and Mr. President

I can’t help wondering whether some mischievous agency was responsible for the close juxtaposition of the visits of Queen Elizabeth of Britain and Mr. Barack O’Bama (sorry – Obama), President of the United States of America, to our fair shores this month. Here we will have, in a country with a long, deep and often complex relationship with both jurisdictions, the opportunity to be host to what will inevitably become a comparison between ancient, inherited status on the one hand, and the quintessence of the Republican ideal on the other.

The comparison will not, of course, be confined to the ideological differences between the two heads of state. Their motivations, and therefore what we can expect of them in public, could not be more different. The Queen does not need to be re-elected and so does not require the support at the ballot box of that proportion of the large Irish Diaspora that inhabits her country. Her Majesty, by her nature and upbringing, is not prone to pressing the flesh and relating closely to the person in the street. Mr. Obama, by sharp contrast, is charisma personified.

All in all, despite the promised disruption to our lives and the controversy that the visit of each, in its own way, will give rise to, I look forward to taking part in whatever events are arranged to allow us mere mortals to participate in the festivities. Somehow, though, I cannot see the second Elizabeth arriving in College Green on an open-topped bus. That Mr. Obama is not likely to do so has far more to do with considerations of security than with any other inclination that he, or his political advisors, might have.

And when it’s all over, can we expect to see composite photos of the two of them, of the sort that was popular in the ‘Sixties of JFK and Pope John XXIII, on every Irish mantelpiece for years to come? Somehow, I think not.

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