Excitedly greeting the census figures showing that people who were either Catholic or brought up as Catholic made up 45.7% of the population with their Protestant equivalents on 43.5%, Colum Eastwood demonstrated his tin ear with an old-fashioned, sectarian response.

Published: 27 September 2022

It included: “As we have built a more inclusive and diverse society, we have together shattered the bonds of an oppressive state which engrained discrimination against a Catholic minority in its every outworking for far too long.

“We are never going back to state-sponsored discrimination against any religious minority.”

He reminded me of so-called historian Tim Pat Coogan, nicknamed ‘Count the Catholics Coogan’, who has written grievance-laden, one-sided tales that appeal to unthinking nationalists and incessantly insisted that once Catholics outnumbered Protestants, a united Ireland would inevitably follow.

“What is the rationality behind nationalist Ireland’s current obsession with dodgy demographics?” enquired Eilis O’Hanlon — who emerged long ago from a republican family to become a ferocious anti-IRA columnist on the Sunday Independent.

“The most generous answer is they genuinely believe unity is within their grasp, but it’s hard to see how they can continue with the ‘one more push’ mentality when they have it in black and white that only a third of people in Northern Ireland identify as Irish, and two-thirds don’t. Forget politics. It’s basic maths.”

Like her cousin Máiría Cahill, Eoghan Harris, Malachi O’Doherty and several other commentators from a Catholic background including me, she believes that in this increasingly sectarian age, most people’s attitude to Irish unity has little to do with religion. In a border poll, voters north and south will mostly make common sense decisions depending on which country seems the more comfortable fit economically, politically and socially.

I’ve just bought, look forward to reading and will report back on Malachi O’Doherty’s new book Can Ireland be One? He describes himself as “neither an ideological unionist nor a principled nationalist”, but I was interested to see that he also is “contemptuous of the British monarchy”.

Living in London, through the last few weeks I’ve shared in the overwhelming emotions sparked by the death of Queen Elizabeth, the outpouring of grief and gratitude, the catharsis of all the ceremonies and rituals and the smooth transition to King Charles. Millions have been caught up in and united by the pageantry that symbolised a shared past and a united future. Generations have been brought together as young people learned why their grandparents revered the Queen’s upholding of unfashionable values of patriotism, duty, selflessness and national pride. The strong connections between monarch and the individual countries that make up the union were to the fore. Even my republican friends were moved and respectful.

I’ve been wondering how a monarchist could chose to join the Republic.

The 1950s were pretty grey and dull everywhere in these islands, but compared to the monochrome of the Republic of Ireland, if you had access to women’s magazines from across the Irish sea, England appeared to be in glorious technicolour, thanks to movie stars and royals. These magazines were passed from hand to hand in the rural circle of my Auntie May in north Cork. Many of the women would have given anything to see a film of the 1953 coronation, but none had television and IRA intimidation had frightened off most cinemas.

In Dublin I grew up in a world without pageantry. Even the St Patrick’s Day parade mostly seemed to consist of depressing floats showing agricultural machinery. State occasions involved a lot of men in dark suits making speeches about martyred heroes, and a scattering of soberly dressed soldiers.

Women didn’t feature much, although sometimes little girls got to parade in a white frock on a feast day. And, of course, there were some gold objects and brightly coloured vestments to be seen at Mass. But that was it. There weren’t even orange sashes.

In the south St Patrick’s Day has become an American-inspired booze-fest with leprechauns, glamour is provided by celebrities, but in the United Kingdom the monarchy is there as a permanent link to our past. Honest histories of kings and queens fly off the shelves.

Anti-monarchists complain about a culture of obsequiousness, but it is nothing of the sort. The monarch embodies the nation: we bow (if we wish) out of respect to an entity, not an individual. In the past few weeks, the stories viewers were learning about went back a thousand years and were rich in complexity and nuance, with monarchs and their families shown to be all too human but therefore relatable.

Had a president rather than a queen died in office, we would now be suffering through a hideously divisive election. Who would be standing? Tony Blair? Jeremy Corbyn? Priti Patel? Harry Styles? Eddie Izzard?

Would Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales be full of people seething that England had a monopoly on presidents? Would there be another dogfight between left and right, reformers and traditionalists, Europhiles and Europhobes?

“Those who imagine that a politician would make a better figurehead than a hereditary monarch”, remarked Margaret Thatcher, “might perhaps make the acquaintance of more politicians.”

God Save the King.

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