Editor: Eamonn O’Reilly
In 2005 there was a series of meetings throughout the country, organised by Irish Aid, to discuss the government’s policy on overseas development. One such meeting took place at the Brandon Hotel in Tralee. The ambassador of the Kingdom of Lesotho to Ireland was among the invited speakers. Over a cup of tea afterwards, it was noted that Kerry too is a Kingdom. Further discussion led to the proposal of a project to be called Twinning the Kingdoms, a cooperative enterprise to raise awareness and to provide development assistance. The ambassador was enthusiastic and the government officials, including the Minister Conor Lenihan, equally so. Funding was provided to explore the feasibility of the venture. Kerry Action for Development Education (KADE) led the project, and I, as a director of KADE, was delegated to travel to Lesotho to investigate the possibilities of cooperation.
I spent two weeks there. Several other delegations visited and the project has proven feasible and sustainable. It is now called Action Lesotho and continues to provide invaluable assistance through local partnerships. In Lesotho, I met people from various organisations: one such was Sentebale. The main mover of this was the then Prince Harry. Sentebale was well established, well-funded and, it was obvious, efficiently run. I was interested in how our fledgling Twinning could gain from their experience.
I was still wondering about this when I got back to Tralee, so I decided to give Harry a ring. I contacted the British Embassy in Dublin, explained the situation to the lovely lady who answered the phone and asked her if she would have his phone number. ‘You’re not looking for much on a Friday afternoon!’ she said. I asked her for the number for Buckingham Palace, which she gave me with a muttered ‘Good Luck!’
I dialled and an equally pleasant woman answered. I was informed that ‘His Royal Highness’ did not reside at Buckingham Palace. Rather, his official residence was Clarence House, and I asked to be put through. Another pleasant woman here informed me that ‘His Royal Highness’ was not in residence. I enquired as to the postal address which was forthcoming. The next step was delicate. I explained that I had never had any dealings with someone royal and therefore was unaware of how to address such people. ‘Your Royal Highness,’ she replied, in an unnecessarily frosty tone I thought!
I commenced a letter. My fingers hovered above the keyboard until I reluctantly began to type: Your Royal … I could hear a rumbling sound far away. It was my father and all the dead generations turning in their republican graves in Mayo, just a few miles from the site of the Tourmakeady ambush! I signed off expressing my condolences on the loss of his mother – she had been kind to a friend of mine in his final days in a London hospice. Within days, I received a reply, thanking me for my interest in Sentebale and informing me that ‘His Royal Highness’ appreciated my kind comments.
My family and I had a trip booked to London the following month to see a few shows. The week before we left, I received a phone call from the Sentebale office in Clarence House and I was invited to drop in anytime I was in London. A meeting was arranged for the following week. In London, a black taxi collected us from our hotel. Myself, my wife and daughter were driven by Buckingham Palace and arrived at Clarence House. Armed police checked our I.D. and we drove around the side of the building. More police checked us and we went though a gate into a magnificent courtyard.
Here, we met Geoffrey, the C.E.O. of Sentebale. Greeting us warmly, he led us across the courtyard, informing us that this was where Queen Victoria walked each morning with the ten Prime Ministers who served during her reign. Not surprisingly, we entered the palace through the back door, and were led up a back stairs to a back office! We gave Geoffrey Killarney crystal and a Guinness neck tie for Harry. He gave us tea … in mugs. It was a useful meeting for us. I learned a lot about how things are done in Lesotho and made useful contacts. I invited Harry to Tralee and suggested that he would enjoy the Rose of Tralee festival. I explained the nature of the event and Geoffrey agreed that it sounded ‘eminently suitable’.
Back home, KADE released a press statement. Several national and all the local papers reported on the invitation, and I was invited to speak on Radio Kerry. As I was waiting in the studio, the news was broadcast. The main headline concerned a government proposal to offer an amnesty to allow holders of unlicensed firearms to the Gardaí. On air, I then spoke about my visit to Clarence House and about inviting Harry to the Rose of Tralee festival. Several listeners rang in to support the idea. One message, though, was less than encouraging. It read: “I was going to surrender my shotgun as part of the amnesty. If that ginger lad is coming to Kerry, I’ll hold on to it and give him the welcome he deserves!”.
And that’s why Harry never came to the Rose of Tralee.