The 1,500 members of the Royal Horticultural Society of Ireland (RHSI) are contemplating whether to remove the royal honorific from the name of their society after some 175 years. Members have been invited to share their thoughts on ending what some would consider an anachronistic link to the head of state of another country.
There must be 50 or more organisations in the Republic with Royal in their titles. They range from yacht and golf clubs to significant cultural institutions like the Royal Irish Academy and several professional bodies such as the Royal College of General Practitioners. For some organisations it reflects their establishment or incorporation via Royal Charter. For others, such as the RHSI, it was merely a mark of favour granted by the sovereign at the time.
Changing the name of an organisation established by Royal Charter is complicated and would probably involve the Oireachtas. It is straightforward for those, like the RHSI, with mere patronage.
For some Irish people, the royal moniker is a symbol of a period in our history that saw much of the population disenfranchised and oppressed. It may not have the same emotional charge as statues of Confederate generals, but neither is it something to celebrate.
The counter argument is that Irish tolerance – if not actual indifference – to the inclusion of royal in the names of so many Irish institutions reflects a country that has come to terms with its past, including those aspects identified with the actions of British monarchs. It is an acceptance of the complexity of Irish history.
No doubt these issues – as well as more prosaic ones such as whether it will increase membership – will be teased out by the RHSI between now and December 1st. That the royal moniker is no longer relevant is beyond doubt. That its widespread removal might send an unwelcome message to unionists about a united Ireland is also possible.
Such is the legacy of the complicated history of Ireland, North and South.