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A Royal visit to Kildare a century ago

Visits to Ireland by heads of state of overseas countries are filling the news columns but there will be a particular focus on the planned visit by Queen Elizabeth II to Ireland in May. The fraught history of relations between Ireland and Britain would fill many printed volumes never mind a newspaper column but it is fair to say that there is a wide spectrum of opinion regarding the proposed visit by a British royal. Whatever the shape and itinerary of Queen Elizabeth’s visit Kildare readers might remark on the coincidence that it comes just a century after the last British monarch to visit Ireland, George V and his wife Queen Mary, set foot within County Kildare.  The focus of their visit was not the county’s equestrian excellence – the normal attraction for of royalty to visit the county – but rather St. Patrick’s College in Maynooth, the largest and most influential Catholic seminary in the English-speaking world. The Kildare Observer newspaper was surely being tongue in cheek when it described the unprecedented decorations at Maynooth College as being ‘simple but effective’. There was nothing simple about the politics behind the placing together of the King’s colours and the Pope’s flag – nowhere else in Britain or its Empire would such a combination be possible or tolerated in 1911. The visit is generally reported in terms of the local colour and the obsequious nature of the welcome received by the Royal visitors but the extraordinary significance of the occasion in terms of world history should not be overlooked. Here was the King as head of the Church of England visiting the most significant institution of the Catholic Church outside of the Vatican.  Whatever about the epic political significance of the occasion the spectacle was enough to attract locals to line the route from Lucan to Maynooth. The Observer reported that at Lucan the crowd was so great and the applause so enthusiastic that ‘the King directed that his car should reduce speed, so that he might be able to more fittingly bow his acknowledgements in response.’  An interesting note is the fact that the King was travelling in a motor car rather than a horse-drawn carriage was novel enough to attract a crowd. The scene in Maynooth was no less welcoming than it had been in Lucan. According to the Observer a ‘large number of village-folk … had assembled for fully an hour before the arrival of the King.’  The wait had not diminished enthusiasm:
‘His Majesty’s appearance was the signal for loud cheers from the entire gathering and the cheering was at once taken up by the ticket-holders within the college gates and vigorously sustained.’ A great Maynooth institution which has outlived monarchs and presidents, the Brass Band, featured in the proceedings. The Observer reported that the band was in position beside the police barracks and escorted the Royal car as far as the college gates. There ‘the Royal Standard and the Papal Flag floated side by side above the main entrance, while beneath some pretty devices in flowers and silk were intertwined with Union Jacks.’ Inside the college gates the musical honours were rendered by the Artane Boys Band which struck up the British national anthem as the King arrived in to the quadrangle of Maynooth College. There to greet him were the leading lights of the Irish Catholic church headed by His Eminence Cardinal Logue, Archbishop of Armagh; Archbishops Healy and Walsh, and ten other Bishops. Also in the receiving party were a dozen of the senior College clerics headed by the College President, Monsignor Mannix, and the Vice President, Very Rev. J. F. Hogan. That there were sensitivities surrounding the visit was evident in the range of terms used to describe the College within the body of the report. At one point it is referred to as ‘the Royal College of Saint Patrick, Maynooth.’  The President of the College, Dr. Mannix, used a more neutral phraseology welcoming ‘Your Majesties to our National Ecclesiastical College.’  However to get an anything but neutral view on the royal visit a reporter only had to journey a few miles from Maynooth on the same day. By one of those great coincidences in history the great annual assembly of nationalists at the grave of Wolfe Tone at Bodenstown near Sallins was taking place on the same Saturday. And in an admirable gesture of journalistic ecumenism the Kildare Observer ran reports of the Royal Visit to St Patrick’s College, Maynooth and the of the Pilgrimage to Wolfe Tone’s grave in side-by-side columns. Truly, in the month of July 1911, Kildare readers were getting both sides of the story.  Series no: 222.

Liam Kenny in his 'Looking Back' column from the Leinster Leader of 29 March 2011 reflects on a previous royal vistor to Kildare one-hunded years ago. Our thanks to Liam

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