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Column Cardinal Rules (Part 25) On breaking bread with the Queen

This week, the (not) Primate of All Ireland records the royal goings-on at the State dinner for Queen Elizabeth II at Dublin Castle. “I eventually manage to distract Enda Kenny with the bread basket…”

ON WEDNESDAY NIGHT I was invited to the state dinner in honour of her Majesty Queen Elizabeth. Naturally I recorded the event for posterity in my diary.


Am sitting at a table with the President, the Queen, Prince Philip, David Cameron, Seamus Heaney and Enda Kenny. I haven’t been at a dinner this interesting since the Bishops and I got together to draft a vague non-committal response to some scandal or other.


Lots of oohing and aahing when the Queen speaks Irish. Very impressed. I notice she has flash cards strewn on the table, including one bearing the words “Cá bfhuil an leithreas” and “Is maith liom cáca milis.”


Everyone clinks glasses. “I like the clinky glass,” her Majesty says. Mary McAleese smiles warmly. The Queen downs her wine in one gulp and deposits the empty glass in her handbag. Everyone looks at each other, but nobody says anything.

Dinner starts. Lots of understandably awkward and stilted conversation, but I eventually manage to distract Enda Kenny with the bread basket, and I turn to talk to Seamus Heaney instead.


Seamus Heaney is very eager to talk about his poetry and says “Isn’t it great when hope and history rhyme?” Haven’t got the heart to tell him that hope and history don’t actually rhyme. Don’t want to hurt his feelings.


Enda Kenny tugs on my sleeve. I have to turn away from a fascinating conversation about Eminem and how cat rhymes with hat. Enda Kenny starts to talk. I just nod and look at a spot on the wall over his shoulder. Out of the corner of my eye I see the Queen taking his glass.


A perturbed Mary McAleese looks like she wants to say something to the Queen. The Queen notices. She points at Brian Cowen “Cé hé sin?” she asks. While Mary McAleese is looking at Brian Cowen the Queen pockets another glass.


Seamus Heaney is talking to David Cameron. “Isn’t it great at moments like this when hope and history rhyme?” David Cameron nearly spits out his potato, “Hope and history don’t rhyme!” he says. Seamus Heaney looks confused.


In an audacious break with protocol Albert Reynolds approaches the table. He hands the Queen his business card and says something about a year’s supply of dog food for the corgis.


Enda Kenny is telling me about his collection of Airfix kits. Am grateful when a pale and shocked looking Seamus Heaney starts tugging on my sleeve. “Apparently hope and history don’t rhyme,” he says.


Enda Kenny is telling what he thinks is a “fascinating” anecdote about Olli Rehn and a misunderstanding over who owned what pencil at some meeting. Prince Philip turns to the Queen: “Who’s the ginger fellow? I don’t trust gingers. Especially boring ones.”

Fortunately Enda Kenny doesn’t seem to have heard.

Meanwhile, David Cameron is writing something on a napkin for Seamus Heaney. “See? History. Hope. Doesn’t rhyme. History and mystery on the other hand…”


A large belch is heard from somewhere in the banqueting hall. Some people think it was Brian Cowen, but others are leaning towards the more likely possibility that it was Cecelia Ahern. The Queen takes full advantage of the distraction and pockets David Cameron’s wine glass.


A waiter comes around to refill wine glasses. Except there are no wine glasses left. Nor is there a salt and pepper cellar, and some of the knives and forks are gone. The Queen asks: “What’s the Irish for just give me the bottle?”


Enda Kenny asks David Cameron for the loan of a fiver, and says something about negotiating the interest rate later. Everybody laughs. Enda Kenny looks hurt.


Seamus Heaney is looking at the napkin and muttering, “hope, history,” and scratching his head.


Seamus Heaney starts crying. No one knows what to do. The Queen pats him on the shoulder and says “There, there,” and pockets his soup spoon.


Dinner finished. Everybody gets up to dance. The Queen jives around a now bulging handbag. A broken Seamus Heaney is swaying in a daze and mumbling nursery rhymes. Enda Kenny is intent on showing everybody how to do the Robot, but nobody seems to want to know.

Everyone agrees that, apart from Enda Kenny’s dancing, that it is the best State dinner ever.

(Not) Cardinal Sean Brady
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