Battle royale

So the Indo asked me to write a bit on the royal visit to Kilkenny. Naturally I completely misinterpreted the brief on the piece and had to rewrite it; the final printed version is here, while this is the original:

We have come a long way as a country. The announcement that HRH Prince Charles was going to be visiting Kilkenny was greeted with a national shrugging of shoulders, a sign that we have moved on from the angry young nation we once were to a more mature approach. We now see a royal visit as being like Christmas drinks in your house with neighbours you don’t especially like, but need to keep onside in case you need to borrow a generator at some point.

In fact, it might even be acceptable to say that it would be nice to have our own aristocracy. Sure, we have our own version of royalty, like Queen Miriam O’Callaghan, ruler of the airwaves, pirate king Johnny Ronan, snatching up gluten-free princesses and whisking them away to his north African hideout, or the Dauphin Nicky Byrne, whose increasingly complex riddles saw his Million Euro Challenge show marched to the guillotine. If only he had listened to his father in law, Emperor Bertie, he would have known that the plain people of Ireland care not for complex mathematics, nor even rudimentary bookkeeping.

So we have our own yellow-pack royalty – but it’s not really the same. There is something entertaining about watching genuine aristocrats go about their business, like a cross between Teletubbies and Game Of Thrones. All that pomp and circumstance, the pageantry of it all, the zany names and goofy accents. The only real royalty we have is Puck Fair’s King Puck, a terrified goat in a cage, dangling 50 feet off the ground like a hairy David Blaine.

Kilkenny was the perfect choice of venue for a royal visit, for it was King James I who granted it royal charter as a city in 1609, which led to centuries of confusion as visitors pointed out that it really is just a large town. Anyone suggesting this heresy might want to do so in private, as Kilkenny was also home to one of the first witch trials – and subsequent burnings at the stake – in Europe. Held in 1324, the trial involved Dame Alice de Kyteler and her servant Petronella de Meath. Part of the charges claimed that Alice had a demon as incubus ‘by whom she permitted herself to be known carnally’ and that he appeared as a cat – something that should sound familiar to any poor hurler who had the arse ridden off them by the Cats in Croke Park over the last two decades.

The two were found guilty of the crimes, and while Petronella was flogged and burnt at the stake, Dame Alice fled to the UK. Aristocrats – a great bunch of lads.

It is Kilkenny’s rich medieval history that has drawn Charles to the city, according to Chris Hennessy, the head barman at The Dylan Whisky Bar.  Chris said that the rumours of the royal visit started some months ago, but were confirmed in the last three weeks. Asked how the news was greeted by locals, he says “People were just glad that something was happening outside Dublin”.

While there are two definite stops for the couple – Rothe House, a 17th century merchant’s townhouse, and the stunning Kilkenny Castle – The Dylan might appear on the itinerary. As the number one whiskey bar in Leinster, it is entirely possible that a whisky enthusiast like Charles might pop in for a quick dram. The Prince is a keen supporter of whisky producers, having given a royal charter to Scotland’s Laphroaig, a distillery whose fire-and-brimstone whisky would go down a treat with the Kilkenny puritans who flambéd Petronella de Meath. So if HRH should pop in for a liquid lunch, what would Chris serve him?

“To start I’d go with an original aqua vitae. This was the drink that later became what we know as whiskey, and the first recipe for it comes from the Red Book of Ossory, penned in 1324 by Bishop de Ledrede at St Canice’s right here in Kilkenny. We have recreated it from that original recipe, so he could start by tasting whiskey’s ancient past. Then I would serve Redbreast 12, to show the traditional Irish style of whiskey, and finish with the new Teeling Brabazon, to give a glimpse of the future.”

Chris points out that the visit really does seem less about publicity – of which there has been little – and more out of the royal couple’s genuine curiosity about the Marble City. Asked if the bar had considered any ways to cash in, he says “We did think about getting in cardboard cut-outs of them, but we were worried we might get a visit from the secret service agents.”

While the royal visit – and subsequent boost in profile – should be of great benefit for the city, it really is a shame that some of the younger royals don’t make a trip across the water before Brexit makes it a bit of a nightmare to get through immigration.

Charles and Camilla’s visit may be the biggest thing to hit the town since the Black Death touched down in 1348, but who among us wouldn’t like to see Will and Kate bringing the kids over for a weekend? Who wouldn’t want to bump into them stocking up on shorts and T-shirts in Market Cross Penneys, as their kids rip the place to bits? Or witness Harry and Meghan loudly arguing outside Joe’s Takeaway at 3am whilst spilling garlic chips down their tops? Imagine the boost in Kilkenny’s tourism profile if little George was seen in a miniature Kilkenny kit, swinging a hurlóg at passers-by, while his dad struggled to get a slab of Smithwicks into the back of a horse-drawn carriage.

In the absence of a monarchy of our own, maybe it’s time we simply accepted the royals back into our bosom – after all, they are practically related to us, for both Kate’s family and that of Charles and his sons, can be traced back to the High King Of Ireland, Brian Boru. Boru’s lineage can also be traced to JFK, Ronald Reagan, Barack Obama, and even our own Baronet, Ryan Tubridy. In fact, Boru’s sprawling family tree shows that when it comes to producing devil-may-care aristocrats with complex marital relations, we really are up there with the best of them.