Mary McAleese is a lovely woman – intelligent, caring – but every so often she seems to lose the run of herself. In The Irish Times this morning, for example, she reveals that her husband spent two days on the phone in 2009, persuading loyalists not to retaliate when two British soldiers were killed at Massarene Barracks. The third day the British Secretary of State rang to thank him and later the Chief Constable. Now we all know Martin plays golf with Jackie MacDonald, but does anyone really believe that loyalist paramilitary decisions are made on the back of what Martin McAleese says? Go aisy there, Mary, would you?
She also talks about the amount she worried over the protocol of genuflecting or bowing to “Her Majesty the queen” during a London ceremony to mark the foundation of Queen’s University.
“I don’t do that” she explains. “I don’t kiss bishops’ rings, I don’t curtsey to popes and I don’t curtsey to monarchs”. Neither do an awful lot of us, Mary.
On the other hand, when she had lunch with QE2 (which a lot of us don’t have), she “was amazed to discover the great interest and the great depth of knowledge she had about Ireland. She disclosed to me what a heartbreak it was to her that because of the political circumstances she could not visit Dublin or the Republic”. Great interest and depth of knowledge, eh? And heartbreak because she couldn’t get to Dublin and beyond the Pale. Mmm. That twanging sound you hear is my credulity being elongated.
And when QE2 came to Dublin in 2011, she was “utterly amazing”, especially at the Garden of Remembrance. How so? “People’s breaths are stopping. Then she did something that nobody expected. When she stepped back, she nodded. A simple thing, not a word, but a gesture of respect. It won over people almost instantly”. So the English monarch lays a wreath and gives the smallest of nods and everyone was won over, problem solved, end of story. Boing! I think something’s happened my credulity.
“There was no word of, you know, ‘sorry for all those generations of domination’. We weren’t expecting that”. But then she spoke five words of Irish! “In those five words all of the anger, frustration and sense of injustice melt away. Because she is showing such respect for the language, so brilliantly”. Wow.
For a woman with a first-rate mind and a loving character, Mary sometimes talks some terrible gushing guff. Even worse, she seems to think the rest of us will believe her.