Mary Kenny’s essential thesis in this thoughtful book is that popular Irish attitudes to the British monarchy, while formally based on the acceptance of a radical republican repudiation of the Crown as a link between Britain and Ireland, in fact contain beneath the surface a good deal of what is known in Ireland as ‘sneaking regard’. She certainly has a point. When Michael Collins was negotiating the end of British rule in Ireland in 1921, he was also providing his Irish fiancée Kitty Kiernan with celebrity magazines dominated then, as now, by royal gossip. Irish republicanism has tended to be hostile to the British monarchy not so much because it was a monarchy but because it was British; one of Mary Kenny’s strongest themes is her stress on the way in which the princes of the Catholic Church replaced the monarchy as an emotional ceremonial focus in the early decades of Irish independence. She notes, for example, that the ceremonial surrounding the arrival of the Papal Legate who presided at the 1932 Dublin Eucharistic Congress was directly modelled on royal visits (including formal reception by the Lord Mayor of Dublin, complete with heralds, at a specially constructed city gate on Merrion Road, Ballsbridge).
Mary Kenny also devotes much attention both to Queen Victoria’s changing attitudes towards the Irish and those of the Irish towards Queen Victoria. Discussion of this subject tends to be dominated by separatists’ denunciations of the queen at the end of her reign as the ‘Famine Queen’, but