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All the  Queen’s men and all the Queen’s horses celebrate a jubilee

This summer all eyes have been on London. Shortly the Olympic Games 2012 will draw global attention to the city on the Thames. Even the colour and excitement of the great sporting occasion will be hard set to match the Jubilee celebrations at the start of the summer which marked the 60th anniversary of Queen Elizabeth II’s accession to the throne. No matter what views people hold on the place of a hereditary monarch in the 21st century it was hard not to be attracted by the spectacle of all the Queen’s men and all the Queen’s horses. With a backdrop of iconic London locations such as Horse Guards Parade, the Mall, and Buckingham Palace, the pomp, the ceremony, the uniforms and the horses created theatre on a grand scale. And although the rituals of royalty have their roots in history, the ceremonial seemed as if it was designed for the television age – all the colour, variety, music, dress and decoration made for compelling viewing even in countries well removed from monarchical loyalties.

Back in the summer of 1897 there were no television cameras to bring the Diamond Jubilee into households throughout the realm then under British rule. But the media of the time, the local newspaper, spared no superlatives in describing the extravagant preparations made to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria in 1897. The Kildare Observer newspaper which was, to an extent, the paper of the loyal gentry was gushing in its description of the celebrations and decorations throughout Co. Kildare. From the Curragh to Kill, and from Millicent to Naas, there was festivity and celebration to mark the 60th anniversary of Victoria’s reign – a tenure that had seen the British Empire reach to every corner of the globe. Not that everybody in Ireland would have felt the same sense of jubiliation. During Victoria’s spell the country had been ravaged by famine and tormented by agitation earning her the dubious title in some quarters as the “Famine Queen”.  However no such disloyal sentiments were allowed intrude on the picture of festivity which the Kildare Observer presented to its readers even though it is clear that the celebrations were confined to a particular section of Kildare society. In the elegant grammar of the day the Observer reported that “Civilians and military seemed to vie with each other in unconscious but splendid rivalry in their endeavours to do something conspicuous.”  And the organisers had everything going for them – even the weather. In fact the weather in late June of 1897 was so good that it was described as being “almost tropical”. So rare was the good weather in an otherwise wet June of 1897 that it was given a name – “the Queen’s weather”.

Favoured by brilliant sunshine the festivities among Victoria’s loyal Kildare subjects were spectacular in their scale and colour. The county town was to the fore as a showcase of jubilee celebration. In the military barracks on the Newbridge, the Royal Dublin Fusiliers presented arms and fired a “feu de joie” (a celebratory fusillade of gun fire) followed by “three cheers for her majesty”.  According to the Observer the festivity extended to the Main Street where “loyal emblems met the eye and in some cases a very pretty scheme of decoration was followed.” The Union Jack was hoisted on the Constabulary Barracks (now the Naas Court Hotel) and prominent citizens displayed bunting and evergreens on their premises throughout the town. At Oldtown Demense, seat of the de Burghs, there was sport and refreshment to mark the Jubilee. The Observer reporter recorded that “A plentiful supply of tea and cake was afforded and outdoor amusements were entered into with great gusto. A cricket match between the Union Jack Club and Hewetson’s School, Clane, was included in the bill of fare.” However even loyalism has its price and the expense involved in organising the party was, according to the paper, defrayed by the Baron de Robeck and Mr de Burgh.

The Jubilee day was also marked in Kill with a parish fete in the grounds of the Church of Ireland rectory. Here too there was no shortage of refreshment: “A liberal fund had been supplied for the purpose of giving all the school children a day’s enjoyment.” Not alone was their tea and cake on offer but at the close of festivities Mrs. Alymer of Kerdiffstown House presented the Jubilee medals which had been sent from London by the Countess of Mayo (of Palmerstown House) to be presented to the school children.

The legacy of Empire has not entirely disappeared from modern Ireland. Throughout Kildare letters are posted in post-boxes bearing the cipher “ V R” for “Victoria Regina” – the application of green paint representing a pragmatic response to the constitutional arrangements of independent Ireland. And in the town of Naas there is also a tangible reminder -- a range of houses on the Newbridge named Jubilee Terrace, presumably built in the year of Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee.

An article from Liam Kenny's Looking Back series, 3 July 2012 : In 1897 many in Co. Kildare celebrated the Diamond Jubliee of Queen Victoria. Our thanks to Liam

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