There was a serious reason behind this week’s visit – and, in the end, rather a lot of small talk too.
Meghan and Harry on walkabout at Trinity College this afternoon.
Source: Gerry Mooney/PA Wire/PA Images
PRINCE HARRY, PRESUMABLY, has no overarching interest in meteorology.
Nevertheless, the recently-minted Duke of Sussex may have been exposed to several hundred conversations about the weather during his brief Irish sojourn.
Harry and the duchess formerly known as Meghan Markle are jetting home this evening after a little over 24 hours in Dublin.
The visit, their first official diplomatic engagement since they tied the knot back in May, took place at the request of the UK government and comes, of course, against a backdrop of uncertainty and concern over Brexit.
Their exercise in soft diplomacy essentially amounted to a custom version of a ‘highlights of Dublin’ city break trip as they took in sights like the Book of Kells, the Phoenix Park and the GAA Museum at Croke Park – engaging in small talk with half the city along the way.
The Prince and the Taoiseach discussed the scorched grass of Government Buildings and the ongoing drought ahead of their one-on-one meeting last night, for instance.
And this afternoon the weather was still a favourite topic at Trinity College, where a crowd turned out for the first main public event of the whistle-stop royal visit.
“You must have brought the weather with you,” one well-wisher observed, in the aftermath of a brief rain shower. A Trinity staff member who met the couple said they had also briefly discussed the recent dry spell.
Around a thousand people gathered at Trinity – some from as early as 9am – to try and catch a glimpse of the couple, including a large number of tourists and college staff. There were some hardcore royalwatchers amongst them – and plenty of locals who said they had just showed up out of curiosity.
Two German tourists who spoke to TheJournal.ie said they had no idea there were VIP guests in town and that they had only wanted to visit the library. The famous Trinity library was closed to the public for the duration of the visit. The Germans said that, on balance, they would have preferred if the royals weren’t here and the library was open.
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How about that England?
And if there’s nothing else to say about the weather, there’s always the sport, of course.
Newstalk reporter Henry McKean livened up proceedings considerably at the Áras reception this morning when he broke with protocol to yell a quick “is football coming home?” at Harry.
“Most definitely,” came the response.
The small talk, of course, is an occupational hazard of being a royal… Everywhere you go, well-wishers are falling over themselves to say hello … but … nobody really knows each other, and what is there to say really?
Harry had a more slightly more serious message to deliver last night – tasked, as he was, with following in the diplomatic tradition set down by his grandmother and father, Prince Charles, in recent years.
The Queen’s visit in 2011, when she remarked that there were some things in the history of the two nations that could have been done “differently or not at all” was regarded at the time to have marked a significant maturing of Anglo-Irish relations.
Michael D Higgins remarked on his reciprocal State visit to Britain in 2014 that: “We live in each other’s shadows; we shield each other, and rely on each other for shelter.”
Speaking to invited guests at the British Ambassador’s residence, Harry remarked that that sentiment was “as apt now as it was then, as we draw strength from one another as neighbours, partners and above all friends”.
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Spectators who met them at Trinity College said the pair had acted as perfect ambassadors.
It’s a testament to the couple’s people skills that they managed to appear genuinely interested throughout a packed day of meticulously choreographed events.
“Have you taken a ball in the face – or have you put a ball in some else’s face?” Harry joked to a young Cork GAA player at Croke Park this morning – following it up with a more serious: “Is this the first time you’ve played on this grass? What does it mean to you?”
Diplomatic value aside, the photos and video clips of the royal pair will provide a massive boost to tourism too in the coming months.
In the wake of the intense interest in their wedding, the couple are global celebrities. Fáilte Ireland boss Paul Kelly said the visit would be of particular benefit to their efforts in the UK market where Brexit has been making things more than a little challenging.
The visit, he said, was “hugely positive” for Dublin and Ireland.
Of course, you may have another view if your bike happened to forcibly detached from its parking spot today in the interests of removing potential hazards from the paths of the visiting VIPs.