Thursday, May 19, 2011

History in the May Queen

The British monarchy are a pretty rare sight in Ireland. To mark Queen Elizabeth’s visit, The Potato Diaries looks back to another royal arrival 190 years ago.

On the 21st of August 1821 the current Queen Elizabeth’s 3rd great grand-uncle arrived in Ireland. It was 130 years since the previous royal visit and the first peaceful visit of a British monarch to these shores.

The obese, flamboyant character arrived in a state of advanced intoxication at Howth, a harbour north of Dublin. At this stage in George’s ‘career’, despite being known by his favourites as the Gentleman of Europe, he was a figure of ridicule who had brought the monarchy into disrepute in a way that would have made Charlie Sheen look like a Buddhist monk. He suffering delusions including one that he had fought at the Battle of Waterloo. He didn’t. Not a difficult one to disprove I would have thought. Like much in Irish history, complicated, confusing and with drink taken.

George has particular significance for children around the world. These lines penned in his honour ‘Georgie Porgie pudding and pie kissed the girls and made them cry. When the boys came out to play, Georgie Porgie ran away’ neatly celebrate his gluttony, lechery and cowardice. That’s what we call a good slagging.

A local artist traced the shape of George’s feet on a granite block at the place where he landed. These are largely ignored by both locals and tourists. In honour of his 3rd great grand-niece’s visit, Potato Pals author and fellow gout sufferer, Patrick Jackson has visited the place and placed images of Potato Pals Buddy and Daisy in the surprisingly small footprints.

This gesture should not be interpreted as a reference to either the famine that was to follow or a suggestion that Ireland has been in any way down-trodden. While believing in the importance of healthy diet, the prudent use of people’s tax and the equality of all tubers, we also recognise that it’s time for Ireland to move on. In the words of our President, "It is an acknowledgment that while we cannot change the past, we have chosen to change the future".

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