Peter Berresford Ellis reviews Champagne and Silver Buckles: the viceregal court at Dublin Castle, 1700-1922 by Joseph Robins, The Lilliput Press, IR£12.99 pbk
THERE HAS been a tendency in the years since independence to ignore the social history of the colonial rulers of Ireland, except where their actions touched the people who suffered at their hands.
That is understandable. But it is not only important to know what your enemy does but why they do so. What actually goes on in their minds? To know why should be the purpose of works on the ascendancy and their lifestyle.
For myself, I enjoyed very much the work of Mark Bence-Jones, Twilight of the Ascendancy, and Michael Hopkinson's The Last Days of Dublin Castle. Champagne and Silver Buckles has proved equally enjoyable.
The author is concerned in drawing a vivid and colourful picture of life at the headquarters of England's imperial rule in Ireland. Here the viceroy, the English monarch's chief representative, presided over a court of the privileged and elite of the ascendancy.
The book lucidly describes the lives, the social and ceremonial rituals, that created this isolated fantasy world in Dublin from which it was possible to ignore the tens of thousands of Irish people starving to death, the appalling feudal system under which local landlords governed, and the continuous armed rebellion against such conditions.
It is worth while seeing how our rulers lived. This is a little known part of the history of the country. One is amazed, for example, at what the viceregal court considered a crisis.
In 1878 Dublin Castle was not at all concerned with the parliamentary victory of Parnell and the Irish Party nor the political programme announced by the Irish Republican Brotherhood in New York. Dear me, no! Rudolph, Crown Prince of Austria, had arrived in Dublin incognito and was invited to lunch with the viceroy, Lord Marlborough.
When it was discovered that the Crown Prince would not lead the procession of the guests into dinner but would have to walk after the viceroy he refused to attend. Consternation!
While Lord Marlborough protested that he was, after all, the Queen's personal representative in Ireland and should take precedence, acting on her behalf, Victoria was not amused. She wrote that the wishes of the Crown Prince should have come first.
Thankfully, Dublin Castle disappeared with a whimper, being surrendered on January 16,1921, to eight representatives of Sinn Fein who arrived in three taxicabs. And not before time!
December 2001/January 2002
Connolly Publications Ltd, 244 Gray's Inn Road, London, WC1X 8JR
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