Ireland’s Charles and Diana wedding ‘snub’ along with five other curious tales

Finding a ‘face-saving’ name for the new NI police force; Trinity College Dublin takes offence; and Casement’s ‘black diaries’

A decision by Ireland’s president Patrick Hillery in 1981 to decline an invitation to the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer raised concerns within government of it being perceived as a snub.

The president decided soon after receiving the invitation from Buckingham Palace he would not attend.

Senior officials in the Department of Foreign Affairs said the formal reply needed to be carefully worded, newly declassified State papers show.

“To simply convey regrets at being unable to attend without a plausible reason would be difficult and could well be misinterpreted both domestically and internationally,” officials stated.


“The press will certainly ask the reason for the non-attendance.

“From a protocol point of view, an invitation from the Head of State of a friendly country to attend an occasion such as this should be accepted unless there are compelling arguments against this course of action.”

The department noted sensitivities around the timing amid the H-Block hunger strikes. “The present state of Anglo-Irish relations … would ensure that there would be much unfavourable comment [in the Republic] if the President were to attend the Royal wedding.”

By not attending, however, Hillery incurred the wrath of the British press. The president was described as a “backwoodsman living in the past” by the grand secretary of the Grand Orange Lodge of Scotland David Bryce.

Eventually, Irish ambassador to the UK Edward Kennedy wrote to Buckingham Palace saying the president could not attend because of a prior engagement. Kennedy attended the wedding as a representative of the Irish government. (File 2023/47/2319)

Princess Diana shows ‘disregard’ for constitutional niceties on Northern Ireland

Diana makes a reappearance in the files a decade later when the Irish ambassador to London comments on her “ignorance of, or disregard for” constitutional state of Northern Ireland.

The late princess had referred to Northern Ireland as part of Ireland in an interaction noted ahead of a historic visit by Irish president Mary Robinson to Buckingham Palace.

The meeting in May 1993 would mark the first time a serving president of Ireland visited the UK, and visited Queen Elizabeth II.

A folder with briefing material for the Irish president ahead of the visit includes a note by the Irish ambassador Joseph Small, where he stated that Princess Diana had visited Ireland in a private capacity for equestrian functions.

“Whenever we meet Prince Charles, he invariably says that he would love to visit Ireland,” Small’s briefing note dated May 21st, 1993, said.

“He is, of course, a regular visit (sic) to Northern Ireland. Princess Diana has also been there.

“Early last year she said to me, with obvious ignorance of or disregard for constitutional niceties: ‘I was in your country yesterday!’”

Among the topics noted for possible discussion between Robinson and the Queen was Northern Ireland, bombing atrocities in the region and Britain, cross-Border issues and general relations between Ireland and the UK.

An observer wrote to the President’s office before the visit and noted some parallels with “the last meeting between an Irish woman leader and a British monarch”.

The writer compared the Buckingham Palace meeting to the Queen of Connaught Grace O’Malley visiting Queen Elizabeth at Greenwich Castle exactly 400 year earlier, in 1593.

“Grace, like yourself, was also a Mayo woman!” Dr Donald Martin from Killybegs in Co Donegal wrote, noting that the language spoken at the time was Latin.

Robinson’s special adviser replied to say the president read the letter with “great interest”. (File 2023/146/40)

Trinity College Dublin demands ‘high-level apology’ over Robinson invite omission

The provost of Trinity College Dublin expressed annoyance at the decision by the government not to invite the university’s chancellor to the inauguration of former TCD professor Mary Robinson as president of Ireland in 1990.

Willam A Watts wrote to the Department of Foreign Affairs four days after the ceremony to complain that Frank O’Reilly had not been invited to the event.

He demanded an apology for the perceived snub and pointed out that the chancellor of the rival National University of Ireland, TK Whittaker, had been invited.

He wrote that Trinity had been reassured that chancellors of universities were not being invited to the ceremony in Dublin Castle and this had been decided by the Department of the Taoiseach.

Watts said it was “very strange” that Whittaker was there while the chancellor of the university which Robinson represented in the Seanad for many years was not.

“I don’t think anything short of an apology from a high level will be sufficient,” he wrote.

The department replied to the letter but its response was not satisfactory to Watts. (File: 2023/47/2503)

New name for NI police force had to be ‘face-saving’ for Trimble

A new name for a Northern Ireland police force that would supersede the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) needed to be “face-saving” for David Trimble, according to records from 2000.

At a meeting between Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern at number 10 Downing Street on July 31st that year, dissidents, demilitarisation and House of Commons facilities for Sinn Féin were discussed.

The meeting took place after the initial decommissioning deadline of May 2000 had been missed.

The Independent Commission on Policing in Northern Ireland, chaired by Chris Patten, made recommendations that would lead to the RUC changing into the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) in 2001.

During the 1½-hour meeting, according to notes sent by Irish ambassador to the UK Ted Barrington, Blair said it was important to leave the unionists with something.

Trimble, then leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, was under severe pressure after signing his party up to the Belfast Agreement in 1998.

It needed to be clear that the “RUC was not the name that was used”, but also that “it was not being erased from history”.

He said that the chief constable agreed that there could not be “a dual name”, but “the unionists did not want their faces rubbed in it”, adding that the British and Irish “Governments’ approach needed to be smarter”.

“If David Trimble could not have a face-saving formula on the name we were in real trouble. We needed to help him through the by-election and his party conference and to ensure that he was strong enough to face a general election.”

Trimble said he would “not to be rolled over on the Police Bill”.

Ahern said that he had “no sense” that the leaders of nationalism and republicanism were “triumphalist” and said that Gerry Adams “wanted the police reform to work and genuinely wanted a police service that young nationalists could join”. (File 2023/154/4)

Roger Casement’s ‘black diaries’ remain an ‘unhappy episode in Anglo-Irish relations’

Former taoiseach Bertie Ahern asked Tony Blair to “throw full light on the truth” about Roger Casement’s infamous “black diaries”.

Casement was hanged in August 1916 for his part in the Easter Rising. He had been arrested after he was delivered ashore in Co Kerry on Good Friday 1916 by a German submarine.

As part of the British government’s attempts to discredit Casement, they let the media know that they had found his incriminating diaries. These were alleged to have included in graphic detail Casement’s activities with young men at a time when homosexuality was illegal.

In December 1999, Ahern reminded the British prime minister that Casement’s body had been repatriated to Ireland in 1965.

“There is a heated ongoing historical controversy, as to whether certain diaries he is alleged to have kept in addition to his conventional diaries are genuine,” Ahern added.

“Is it possible that the Home Office and or the intelligence services even at this distance in time may be able to throw full light on the truth?

“Putting the historical record straight and settling the issue one way or the other, which ought to be possible given that it is a question of fact rather than a value judgement, would be beneficial in closing an unhappy episode in Anglo-Irish relations and would of course have significance for both traditions in Northern Ireland.”

It is unclear from the file what support if any the British government gave to the process of finding out the truth about the black diaries as they are still a matter of dispute today.

Former British PM had ‘no excuses’ for Bloody Sunday

Edward Heath who was British prime minister at the time of the Bloody Sunday massacre in 1972 told an Irish diplomat almost three decades later that he “would not make any excuses” for the shootings in Derry that day.

At a lunch in his London residence in 2001, Heath told Irish ambassador to the UK Daithí Ó Ceallaigh that he still had full-time police protection which he felt he needed because of Bloody Sunday.

“Privately he said to me that he did not propose to make any excuses for what happened on Bloody Sunday. ‘You would not expect me to’ he said,” according to Ó Ceallaigh’s note of the meeting.

Heath mentioned the Saville inquiry which was then ongoing and said it was right that soldiers involved on the day could give evidence in a place away from Derry due to the potential risk to their lives.

At the end of the note, Ó Ceallaigh added his observation: “What I find extraordinary is that there is no understanding at all of the enormity of what happened in Derry when British soldiers shot dead 13 unarmed civilians in a country supposedly governed by the rule of law.”

A formal state apology for Bloody Sunday was not made until June 2010 when British prime minister David Cameron described the shootings as “unjustified and unjustifiable”. (File: 2023/155/22) – Additional reporting: PA

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