The mourners massing to slowly shuffle past the remains of Elizabeth the Second in London’s Westminster Hall are drawn by more than just macabre fixation.
A dull wooden box laying in a dusty hall inside a crumbling palace would do little to draw in the crowds in such numbers.
No, the truly intoxicating agent is the Anglo-Saxon pageantry that has been carefully woven into the occasion as the national image is adorned with a fresh coat.
Ever since the ancient Athenians first gathered to parade a new dress for the goddess Athena up atop the Parthenon, nations have banded together to ritualise the affirmation of their chosen self-image.
England, and by extenuating myth-making Britain, has excelled in this art with the crowning institutions of Parliament and the Monarchy sitting atop centuries of organic and little altered heritage.
The stitch and thread holding up England’s self-perpetuating order are the public ceremonies performed by the British Army, notably the guards’ regiments – of which notably the ‘Irish Guards’ play a leading role.
More than simple tourist fodder, the parading bearskin-clad soldiers, yeomen warders and assembled bands are arguably the stem holding up Britain’s outsized but still widely accepted sense of self.
Such heavily choreographed displays are seemingly what keep Edmund Burke’s ‘little platoons’ from eroding utterly amid England’s decades-long political and cultural malaise.
Ireland’s late essayist Desmond Fennell wrote of Britain’s adroitness in the maintenance of national self-image in comparison to Ireland’s stalled attempts in The State of the Nation – Ireland since the sixties.
Fennell penned: “As a result of its long and largely undisturbed development, the English national image has acquired an unusual richness of texture…..The ancient monarchy, parliament and laws are there at the top”
“Few nations have managed this fundamental business of nation-making and nation-maintenance quite so well as they,” he added.
The following chapters see Fennell, writing in the early 80s, diagnosing the ills negating Ireland’s construction of a robust national idea.
At times Fennell’s words land with an eerily prophetic familiarity given the steady regression of nationalism overseen by today’s Irish elite.
Ireland does possess the military heritage, richness in culture and record of action needed to mimic the rituals of a serviceable Gaelic self-image.
Take for instance the Blue Hussars, a ceremonial troop inherited from the British administration but recertified in the heady days of the 1932 Eucharistic Congress into a mounted escort outfit.
Painter Seán Keating is believed to have presented designs for a Gaelicised uniform for the hussars consisting of a saffron léine with rows of black braid, a blue brat and a black Balmoral cap adorned with a saffron feather.
The fact this original design for the uniforms was forgone is a stain on the period, only surpassed in ineptitude and short-sightedness by the eventual decision to have the Hussars ditch their horses for blue Honda motorcycles.
Looking for outside inspiration free from any hint of anglophilia one could turn to Greece, which, like Ireland, faced an uneasy time building and maintaining a coherent nation-state image after winning independence.
The Greek presidential guard or Evzones perform a highly ceremonial role guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, clad in a shirt-like garment with a tunic, not unlike the Celtic woollen Ionar.
A similar Irish regiment, if raised, could carry out a similar function with guards stationed outside the GPO, Kilmainham Gaol and Garden of Remembrance.
Inspiration can also be found in Ireland’s long military traditions on the continent, notably the legacy of Gaelic lords who resisted the Tudor conquest before finding service in European armies.
In Spain, the city of Valladolid recently held a historical re-enactment to mark the 420th anniversary of Red Hugh O’Donnell’s death.
Hundreds joined the torch-lit procession through Valladolid’s cobbled streets to the final resting place of Aodh Ruad.
Funerals have often been important stages on which the renewal of the Irish national project has played out.
The burial speech of Patrick Pearse for O’Donovan Rossa was delivered following a procession which had seen companies of Irish Volunteers, pipe bands, men carrying croppy pikes, and teams of hurlers follow behind the hearse.
Republican colour parties included, modern revivals often fall short in professionalism and artistic intent.
Meanwhile, the Irish state is reluctant to indulge in even the most base displays of national self-assertion, let alone the overtly militaristic public rituals suggested previously.
Rediscovery of the mastery of choreographing such emotive set-piece occasions remains in the grasp of the Irish right of today.
As a Kingdom buries a Queen and a Republic watches on let us ponder on what occasion or anniversary would Dublin warrant such regalia here in Ireland.
Unless that is reflecting on the future of Irish nationhood has become simply too macabre a fixation, in which case only the mourners’ queue remains.
Great article…excellent points made. Big picture, we have a true and coherant national identity but are not allowed to glory in it…the problem is our “leaders” have sold out and anyone and everyone….thereby becoming the enemy of the nation. It cannot continue…the times they are a-changing.
The Irish State is it’s People,and that compared to English pomp and pageantry,be it Military or Monarchy is the real comparison of Sovereignty over Subject.
Ireland has never bragged about it’s military involvement overseas as other nations have done, but nevertheless was always a significant contributing factor.
We can agree that English Subjects are talented and recognized as such
throughout the world for their achievements in all it’s forms but understanding and promoting the pools of wealth that Irish People have given IRELAND over centuries because of Individual Sovereignty, that
supersedes any recognition or contribution of Monarch or Subject.
Ireland lacks Patriotic Leadership,People of Caliber that believe in the gifts bestowed upon us through our ancestors, A SOVEREIGN IRISH NATION AND ITS PEOPLE…the 1/2 leadership of today does not believe in Nationhood and generally come from the back/end of queues.