Saturday, 20 October 2012
Honours and how to use them
I'm reading at the moment a splendid book titled The Two Unions' by a man called Alvin Jackson. The two unions in question are those between England and Scotland, and England and Ireland. I was reminded of it today by a report in The Irish Times, about which more later.
Jackson covers a huge amount of ground in his book - from the beginning of the eighteenth century up to this century. But it's his take on the British Honours system that caught my eye:
"A superabundance of honours launched the union [of Britain and Ireland] in 1801, and (less remarked upon) also sustained it". He exemplifies the absurdity of this profusion of honors by quoting from an E F Benson novel where a character "sports her MBE unfailingly and inappropriately, having received it for 'her services in connection with Tilling hospital...[which were] entirely confined to putting her motor-car at its disposal when she did not want it herself". Elsewhere, Jackson talks about the "voracious Irish appetite for title": "The Guinness brothers, Arthur and Edward, were prominent businessmen, philanthropists and statesmen who quietly bankrolled much Unionist activity through the Home Rule era, including the militancy of Ulster Unionists in 1912-14. The Unionist government duly responded with honours, granting Arthur a peerage (as Lord Ardilaun) in 1880, and Edward a baronetcy (1885) on the occasion of the Prince of Wales's (unsuccessful) visit to Ireland: a peerage (as Lord Iveagh) and the Order of St Patrick soon followed, in 1891 and 1895."
Fast forward to today' IT's report. Irish impresario Harry Crosbie yesterday received an honorary OBE (Order of the British Empire) for his part in the visit last year to the south by Queen Elizabeth.
"In a citation before the red-ribboned OBE was presented, Andrew Staunton, deputy chief of mission said the spur for the award was Mr Crosbie's key role in the performance at the convention centre, a concert 'which helped change history' " As he received the award, Mr Crosbie was told that it was "in recognition of these valuable services that Her Majesty the Queen has appointed you to be an honorary officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire". What the paper calls "a beaming Mr Crosbie" said the concert was a "collegiate event" and that what he and others had done was "patriotic and sent out wonderful images of Ireland".
There's also a description of 'those cathartic few minutes when tears streaked down the faces of 2,000 Irish people giving Her Majesty a standing ovation at the end of the concert", but I'll have to leave it there as the cat has just got sick on the carpet.