The first words spoken by Queen Elizabeth II when she rose to her feet on the occasion of a dinner given in her honour at Dublin Castle, during her State visit to Ireland in 2011 were, “A Uactaran agus a Chairde.”
Undoubtedly this gesture on her part contributed to the acknowledged success of a historic trip that was the first made by a British monarch to Ireland in 100 years, and the first since the nation gained independence from Britain. We may be the United Kingdom’s nearest neighbour, but the mutual troubled history of our islands had ensured that this visit was a long, long time in the making.
Certainly, the Queen endeared herself to many at the time and there was a genuine sense of grief when news of her passing was announced on Thursday of last week. With Charles as King and his son and grandson as monarchs in waiting, there will not be a queen on the English throne for the foreseeable future. Unless of course, something unexpected happens, as it did of course to Elizabeth herself who was not born to rule.
An Unforeseen Event
Princess Elizabeth Alexandra Mary came into this world on 21 April 1926 at 17 Bruton Street, the London home of her maternal grandparents. The first of two daughters, her father was the Duke of York, second in line to the throne occupied at that time by King George V.
Within a decade, on the abdication of her uncle, Edward VIII, (who gave up the throne in order to marry the twice-divorced American, Wallis Simpson) she was the heir presumptive. Edward was unmarried and childless which meant that her reluctant father was plunged into kingship. He would see it all through in a conscientious and dutiful manner that his daughter would inherit.
Elizabeth’s upbringing was designed to fit her to rule; her education was arranged by her mother with as much an emphasis on social accomplishments as on academic achievements. In her liking for the country and country pursuits such as riding she followed family tradition: she is reported to have told an enquirer that, if she had not been heir to the throne she would wish ‘ to be a lady living in the country, with lots of horses and dogs.
Love in Wartime
The war years were spent at Windsor but at the beginning of 1945, Princess Elizabeth, at last, persuaded her father to let her undertake her National Service ‘as other girls of my age do’. She joined the Auxiliary Transport Service and proved an able driver and competent mechanic. As Second Lieutenant Elizabeth Windsor, she was able to meet women and men from all kinds of backgrounds.
By this time the Princess had already met the man she would marry and with whom she was very much in love. This was Prince Philip of Greece, whose father Prince Andrew, had been banished from his country as the result of a military coup in 1922. In order that his son should not become involved in the maelstrom of Balkan politics, he entrusted his upbringing to British relatives, the Mountbattens.
In 1939 Prince Philip entered Dartmouth and served with distinction in the Royal Navy throughout the war, being mentioned in dispatches after the Italian defeat at Cape Matapan. As a third cousin of Princess Elizabeth (both were great-grandchildren of Queen Victoria) he was welcome at Windsor and romance blossomed.
The young couple considered the possibility of marriage as early as 1946, but the King was anxious that his daughter should have reached her twenty-first birthday before coming to a decision. It was a few weeks after this event, on 10 July 1947, that the betrothal was finally announced. The wedding took place on 20 November that same year. They celebrated their first wedding anniversary as proud parents of a six-day-old son, Prince Charles. He was followed by a daughter, Princess Ann in 1950 and two more sons, Prince Andrew in 1960 and Prince Edward in 1964.
For God and Country
Throughout the years the Queen had many troubles with her adult children and the death of Princess Diana in 1997 proved to be a real test of the Monarchy. Even her sharpest critics accept that the longest reigning British Monarch has been greatly loved by her people in the United Kingdom and admired by millions across the world.
Her devotion to duty and love of family and subjects was mentioned by many, including Tánaiste Leo Varadkar. Not surprisingly he did not mention her devotion to God, which was well known, widely acknowledged, and to which she herself often referred. “Throughout my life, the message and teachings of Christ have been my guide and in them I find hope.”
Queen Elizabeth died at Balmoral, in Scotland, on 8 September, the feast of the Nativity of Our Lady.
Ar dheis Dé go raibh a hanam
Written by Marie – Therese Cryan