City of Ceremony

The like had never been seen before: four hundred mounted, fearsome, chain mailed knights, four thousand sharp eyed archers, legions of dour gentlemen, richly robed and bejewelled, and the king, Henry ll, in all his royal splendour. Surely, only the cries of the gulls were heard above this parade of medieval power and magnificence on the banks of the River Liffey in the year 1172.

Dublin town had no house fit for Henry and no room within the walls to build one, so his elaborate winter palace of wattle was sited without. Over the course of the long visit the rhythm of town life changed, becoming one with the royal court. Staved by clarion call and drum roll, the days were filled with masking and mumming, jousting and hunting, bear baiting and cock fighting. And how they feasted!  Roasted deer, boars, cranes, pheasants, partridges and fully feathered peacocks - all served on the finest plate of gold and silver, while white robed maidens danced for his royal entertainment. Henry took Dublin for his own - this theatre of English power would last another 700 years and more - and no royal visit ever matched his, not even when disaffected Irish declared Lionel Simnel King of England in 1487, carrying him shoulder high across the Dublin Brydge, wearing a crown taken from the statue of the Virgin in St. Mary’s Abbey.

Viceroys made excellent regal understudies, parading upon white barbary horses, coteries of fattened noblemen in attendance and axe wielding soldiers in protective formation while Dubliners, bidden by drum beating footmen, crowded the winding, dirt strewn streets to pay homage.

Fanfares of trumpets and kettle drums were, in time, replaced by gun salutes from the battery in the Phoenix Park. And when the viceroy took up official residence in the park the people could watch from afar when the Viceregal Lodge was readied for dinners and parties: strings of lights extravagantly illuminated the house and gardens, refreshment tents crowded the lawns while officers in full regalia provided amusement for the ladies, leading them to the ballroom strewn with flowers, laced in evergreens and dotted with pretty arches.

For everyday entertainment the poor flocked to to the Castle to see the rich and powerful arrive for the weekly balls and to catch the coins the Steward of the Household might throw from his carriage. And the city fathers still exhibited themselves in medieval fashion, even in the 1800s, processing from mansion house to exhibition house, from the castle to the exchange, embellished by chains of office, the city mace and with army bands calling the people to attention. Though royal visits spiced city life again in the 19th century - affable George lll provided rich street entertainment in a city grown drab with poverty - pomp and circumstance gave way to home grown expressions of pride in a distinct Irish identity.

The wearing of the green is, today, as potent and powerful as symbol as was once the royal standard.

by Annette Black, Wicklow
Published on 31st August 2013