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June 2019
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2013-08 Britfix - British Fixation

James column for the SligoWeekender

With the recently long-awaited arrival of little Prince George Alexander Louis, who may just perhaps become King of England within the 21st Century, probably long after the rest of us have shed our mortal coils, what is this fascination with the Royalty? After all, wee Georgie burps, gurgles and poos like all other babies, doesnt he? And he even looks a lot like other babies, cos&well, he is a baby.
Millions were glued to the box when Diana married Charles in their so-called fairytale wedding. We all rubber-necked years later when Dianas life was cut tragically short under a much-less-glamorous Paris flyover. Wouldnt she have loved her daughter-in-law and grandson?  More recently billions were transfixed to their flat screens as Kate wed William, with the Pippa sideshow. Was the world just craving a glimpse of that centuries-old splendour, grandeur, pomp, protocol and pageantry, or perhaps viewing it as some sort of 21st Century royal soap-opera?

But why is it that other recent royal tales from Belgium, the Netherlands, Monaco, Spain and Norway, while they make the news, fail to gather such media momentum and hype? What is it with the worlds fixation with everything British? Period dramas and series such as The Tudors and Downton Abbey win manifold awards and amass record-breaking audiences worldwide. Movies such as The Kings Speech, The Queen, The Madness of King George, The Iron Lady and even Harry Potter, all British to the core, break box-office records and bag innumerable Oscars.

After all, the American Revolution was fought and won, and the all-new United States of America broke free from the British Empire. And somehow, 250 years later every American is glued to CNN and Fox, as the entire media goes bonkers awaiting news from a London hospital,  in near Christ-like anticipation. Then, at last - The King is born!.

In Ireland, are we any better? We also fought and won a Civil War, and like America we proudly pronounced ourselves a Republic, shedding our colonial shackles. Independence was earned after centuries of struggle, and with the help of (somewhat ironically) many Protestant nationalists  Wolfe Tone, Emmet, Parnell, Childers, Markievicz and others. As someone whose ancestors, about 400 years ago, arrived from Britain, I would likewise label myself a Nationalist and 100% Irish. Like father, like son. However I remain intrigued by our nations somewhat paradoxical captivation with everything British. We have had an incredibly long and chequered relationship with our closest neighbour through colonialism, famine, War of Independence, Civil War, the needless and malevolent  Mountbatten Murders, and never-ending decades of Northern troubles. Yet despite our innate Nationalism, we remain surrounded by architectural symbols and remnants from our colonial past. One only has to look above the doorway to Sligos GPO, or at the many old post-boxes (repainted green), as well as most of the buildings in our nations capital.

Whether Americans like it or not, the birth of the USA as we know it was inextricably linked to Britain. However, leaving aside all of this, we in Ireland are somewhat incongruously hooked as a nation on the daily goings-on in Manchesters fictional suburb of Weatherfield, East Londons Albert Square, and Yorkshires Woolpack pub. And despite having a local team who not only won our own Premier Division, but progressed to the Champions League, the majority of the nation still support Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool etc. And, admit it, there are even some of you out there who wouldnt dream of missing the Queens Christmas speech!

I honestly think it would be healthier for the world if the somewhat pompous and even aggressive titles United Kingdom and Great Britain were relegated to the past and perhaps downgraded a little to just Britain.  Perhaps then our neighbouring island might gather a few more friends in Europe, and may even receive a better ranking in the Eurovision, even the odd douze points peut-être.  
Yet the fascination with the Royals goes on. Maybe its just a fuzzy feel-good story to get a little light relief from the wars, terrorist attacks, recessions, political wrangling, child deaths etc which invade our screens. Or maybe, just maybe, our history is also inextricably linked to our chequered relationship with our nearest neighbours, as was surely highlighted by the recent most impressive and welcome visit by Queen Elizabeth.

And might I remind you&..this is a Nationalist speaking.