Friday, December 26, 2014

Point of Brew: the magic of monarchy and Guinness


May 25, 2011 |

The House of Windsor has had a splendid year so far. The recent royal wedding of William and Kate and, in a quite different way, the Queen’s recent visit to Ireland shows the remarkable power in the symbolism of a constitutional monarchy that any other form of government can hardly hope to match.

The royal wedding was not merely a wedding within the royal family that, by the magic of satellites and television, 2 billion people around the planet watched as spectators or as voyeurs; curiously, no, we were not just observers, we were part of the event.

Despite the flying music, the shimmering Abbey, the clatter of hooves and the pomp of open carriages, the wedding was everyone’s wedding.

It was the genius of the House of Windsor to make the royal wedding our wedding; we felt like that young couple, that man and that woman, when we were married. And it was your wedding when you were Prince or Princess for a day.

William was my son getting married and Kate was my daughter, and they were yours, too, and their wedding was every wedding we collectively ever thought of.

Sheer public relations genius that brought joy and uplift and reassurance to millions; in that simple joining of two young people the monarchy managed to unite a nation behind the very idea of nation-hood, reaffirming that the nation is a stable and steady and continuing family to which we all belong, in which we all share and to which we all have a responsibility and a duty.

I’m not usually so fulsome in my admiration of royalty; I blame them for the tiresome and petty trappings of class distinction that deeply affects and afflicts the British nation in which some nobodies look down their noses at other nobodies. Nevertheless, I am no British republican yammering to abolish the monarchy, to elect the head of state and (God forbid!) adhere to a written constitution.

The Queen’s visit to Ireland was much lower on American radar than the royal wedding but, in its display of the sheer majesty of monarchy and the ability of one courageous person with simple actions to color the face of history, it far exceeded it.

This power stems from the symbolism of the British monarch who is today’s embodiment of monarchs long departed into the pages of the history books, and who represents the events and tumult that is their heritage.

Henry VIII had himself declared King of Ireland and his daughter Elizabeth I brought Protestantism to Ireland, and worse, tried stamp out the Catholic faith. So when Elizabeth II stepped onto Irish soil it was a very big deal indeed, because she came not as a conqueror or usurper but to heal and to recognize and to respect and perhaps even to apologize to Ireland and the Irish and the Irish Diaspora.

And the ordinary folk of Ireland saw that and drew satisfaction and pride from it; my correspondent tell me that the Queen’s actions in attending to and respecting the Irish language, Irish cultural icons and monuments brought tears to her eyes:

“On more than one occasion I cried at the symbolic significance at what was happening” she wrote. “It has been a good weekend for Ireland … 800 years of suspicion and fear have been significantly changed and it is fabulous … it has all changed for the better.”

Now that is the majesty of monarchy and the power of symbols writ large. There are many gracious grandmothers but only one Queen.

Of course, this is a beer column and one cannot let Ireland and Dublin go by without a mention of a rather important Irish cultural icon that the Queen and Prince Phillip included in their itinerary. I speak, of course, of the St James Gate Brewery of Arthur Guinness & Co, and that dark, bitter and acidic beer — Guinness stout. Prince Phillip likes his pint of brew and he enjoyed a Guinness while in the Gravity Bar at the brewery.

Now, the brewery is close to the River Liffey and so it was perhaps natural for Phillip to enquire whether the River Liffey is the source of brewing water. This caused a bit of a flutter and guffaw in the press because the river is no longer exactly a pristine waterway; in fact, Guinness pipes brewing water to the Dublin brewery from the Wicklow Mountains south of the city.

And so monarchy even laid to rest the old myth and mystery that dark satanic Liffey water accounts for the taste of Guinness.

— Reach Michael Lewis at Comment on this column at



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