Wedding bells quiet Irish antipathy toward British royals – for now

The real test of Irish sentiment toward the monarchs comes in May during the first royal visit to the Republic of Ireland since its independence from Britain in 1920.

Toby Melville/Reuters
Crowds walk along Whitehall which will be part of the Royal Wedding Procession Route, in central London on Wednesday, April 27. Britain's Prince William will marry Kate Middleton at Westminster Abbey on April 29.

There is no danger of the green, white, and orange turning red, white, and blue for the day, but Irish scorn for the British monarchy is at an all time low as the royal wedding approaches.

Ireland, Britain’s earliest colony and one of the first (other than the United States) to gain independence by overthrowing the government in a revolution, is perhaps the unlikeliest of all to celebrate the marriage of a monarch. And yet many in Ireland will be glued to the television on Friday, preoccupied with the pageantry of Prince William and Kate Middleton's wedding.

While street parties are planned in Britain – though markedly fewer than for previous royal events – celebrations in Ireland will tend toward the low key, though the odd semi-official event is planned. As part of its Riverfest festival of arts and entertainment, the city of Limerick will be screening the wedding on a large public screen.

Festival spokesperson Laura Ryan says the event is aimed at women: “We had planned a fashion event long before we knew about the wedding. Then we were worried that a lot of women would stay at home to watch it, so we decided to screen it."

"It's not political. People want to see what Kate Middleton is wearing," she says.

The move was initially controversial. Local councilor Michael Sheahan, a member of the governing Fine Gael party, objected on the basis of offending people’s “sensibilities” and also raising logistical issues, but has since backed down.

Less officially but no less interested, online bridal magazine is holding a wedding party in Dublin’s exclusive Fitzwilliam hotel. Organizer Naoise McNally expects 60 guests to turn up to cheer the regal couple on.

“It’s not at all political for us,” she says. “We’re doing it purely as a fun morning for brides to be. After all, it’s ultimately a really romantic occasion of a young couple in love.”

Where's the republican antipathy?

What appears to be entirely missing on the streets of Ireland, at least as far as the wedding goes, is traditional republican antipathy to all things related to the British crown. Instead, those who are uninterested in the wedding tend to be just that: not interested.

Some see it as little more than a celebrity spectacle: “I suppose gossip fans will look upon the royal wedding as Hello magazine-Live,” says Conor Lambert, a renowned Dublin puppeteer.

Not all those who are celebrating the wedding are taking it particularly seriously, either. Ciara Norton’s family in Dublin will be having a small party – with a difference: a canine version of the ceremony. "We also have two dogs, a groom dog and a bride dog, complete with a wedding dress,” she says.

Unorthodox enactments of the royal event aside, Ms. Norton will also be attending a fashion event on the morning of the wedding.

“I doubt you’ll find very many men interested in the wedding,” she says, “but there is a female interest from a fashion perspective: What will people be wearing?”

Monarch's first visit since independence

The real test of Ireland’s republican sentiment will be May’s visit by the British Queen, the first visit to the Republic of Ireland since the country gained independence from Britain in 1920.

Across the border in Northern Ireland, self-governing since the signing of the 1998 Good Friday Accord but still part of the United Kingdom, things remain as divided as ever – and the royal wedding is as good a barometer of that division as any.

Unionists, overwhelmingly Protestant, tend to be interested in the monarchy as a British institution. Republicans, typically Catholic, are – unsurprisingly – less interested. Northern Ireland’s capital will be alone among British cities in not showing the wedding on a giant public screen, located in Donegall Place, ironically at the end of the city’s main shopping street, Royal Avenue.

A spokesperson for Belfast City Council says the decision whether or not to screen the event wasn’t its to make as the screen is owned by the BBC and has been installed in the run-up to next year’s London Olympic Games: “The Belfast screen will become operational next month, and the broadcast content will be managed by the BBC on behalf of the London 2012 organizing committee.”

Nonetheless, unionist areas of Belfast are festooned with flags and bunting in preparation for the event.

“The pomp and circumstance of it holds a great attraction for Ulster’s loyalists,” says Rankin Armstrong, deputy editor of unionist daily the News Letter. "Many people here have a great affinity with the royal family and what it represents. They cherish the feeling of belonging."

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