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Visit of George IV. to Ireland


The King's Arrival and Reception at Howth - Public Entry into Dublin - Review in the Phoenix Park - Christ's Church Cathedral - Levée at the Castle - The Drawing-room - The Theatre Royal - The Linen Hall - The Bank of Ireland - The Corporation Banquet - The Royal Dublin Society - Visit to Slane Castle - Chief Justice Bushe - The Dublin University - Installation of the Knights of St. Patrick - Ball at the Rotunda - The Curragh of Kildare - The Castle Chapel - Visit to Powerscourt - The King's Departure - The King's Message of Conciliation to his Irish Subjects- The Effect of the Royal Visit on the Country.
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Sir Francis Burdett once wrote a letter of a single sentence to his friend lord Cloncurry, as follows: - " Dear lord Cloncurry, I should like to know what you think would allay Irish agitation? Yours truly, F. B. " ("Personal Recollections of Lord Cloncurry," p. 285.) It would have taken a volume to answer this question, and perhaps, after all, Sir Francis Burdett would not have been satisfied. George IV. thought that his visit would have had that effect, and appearances for a time seemed to justify his sanguine anticipations. The visit had been long meditated. He set out on a yachting excursion soon after the coronation, and arrived at Plymouth on the 1st of August, amidst the huzzas of an immense concourse of people. On the following day the royal squadron departed for Ireland, and anchored in the bay at Holyhead on the 7th.

The news of his approach threw the people of Dublin into a paroxysm of joy, to which the newspapers of the day gave expression in the most extravagant terms. The blessing that awaited them seemed too great to be realised. Never had they comforted their hours of despondency or flattered themselves in seasons of imagined felicity, with anything approaching to the reality which fortune was about to shower upon them. The king's name, they declared, was more to them than a tower of strength; it had effected what neither patriots, philosophers, nor moralists could ever accomplish. " It had hushed the billows of discord at once. It had sent out the refreshing breath of peace to soothe the public heart. It had taught discontent composure, and driven from the land the troubled demons of division, disquiet, and national anarchy.

'The wandering shadows, ghastly pale,
All trooped to their infernal jail; '

and loyalty, unanimity, and hope have proclaimed their jubilee." They confessed that they had never dared to tope for the blessed realities they were about to witness, and that such a moral revolution in the public mind must be regarded even by the most sanguine as something miraculous. There was not a meeting, or a club, or a coterie in the city that was not pervaded by the same spirit of union.

There were intense anxiety and most painful suspense while the queen was on her death-bed, lest her demise should prevent the royal visit. The king, also, was evidently troubled in mind for the same reason, as appears from the following extracts from a letter written by himself: - "On Tuesday, at noon, as I had heard nothing from my friend, lord Sidmouth, who had passed over to the other coast some hours before, we took up our anchorage here. We had reason to know he had heard the report before he left Holyhead, and it was determined, as the best medium line that could be adopted until I could hear from him, that I should proceed for twelve hours to lord Anglesey's. Accordingly, I wrote to lords Sidmouth and Bloomfield, to acquaint them with the communication I had received respecting the queen, to account for delay in my not proceeding to Ireland, and desiring lord Sidmouth's advice as to what I had best do, and that we would make all the arrangements which might be necessary under existing circumstances. I returned from Pias Newydd to my yacht here about four o'clock on the next day (Wednesday), and found lord Sidmouth just disembarked, and ready to receive me. He stayed about two hours with me on board, and then again took his passage in the steamboat, having arranged with me that if the accounts from London of the queen the next day should represent her to be in an improved state, then we should set sail as quickly as possible, and land at Dunleary, and make my public entrée at Dublin on that day (Friday), although he had already taken measures for a private entry, if matters should be worse, as it was utterly impossible for me, under any circumstances, not to proceed now „to Ireland, where public notice would be given that I should observe the strictest privacy for some days until we were acquainted either with the queen's recovery or demise, and till after the body should be interred.

" Lord Londonderry fortunately arrived the next morning, after lord Sidmouth left me - that is to say, yesterday (Thursday), before seven o'clock in the morning - and has remained with me, and will continue to do so till I have set my foot on the Irish shore. He approved of all the arrangements I had made with lord Sidmouth as the best possible, and with every view I had taken of the whole circumstance; and it is now determined that, either in the course of the day, or as soon as possible as the wind and weather will permit (but which at present does not seem encouraging), we are to set sail, either in the yacht alone, or by steam, to Ireland; to make Howth (about five miles from Dublin), and to proceed, without any sort of show or display, to the Phoenix Park, without entering or passing through Dublin at all. My arrival there will then be publicly announced, and the strictest privacy for a few days will be observed, as far as proper decency and decorum may require; and after that the day will be announced when I shall make my public entrée, and when all public ceremonies and rejoicings will commence."

The old exclusive corporation of Dublin, the very stronghold of protestant ascendency, was all conciliation and liberality upon this occasion. This was due in a great measure to the lord mayor, Mr. Bradley King. On the 10th of July a meeting of Roman catholics had been held, to arrange matters for an aggregate meeting, for the purpose of addressing the king on his arrival. To this meeting a message came from the lord mayor, intimating that he would use his authority to prevent the dressing of the statue of king William on the 12th. This statue, which stands on College Green, being the idol of the Orangemen, was always re-painted and decorated in the brightest orange tints for the anniversary of the battle of the Boyne. Another communication came from the committee of the corporation, inviting lord Fingal and the catholics to co-operate with them in honouring the king. Being assured that this proposal was " for the purpose of lasting concord and harmony," the catholics welcomed the offer as "an auspicious omen of the future happiness of Ireland." Notwithstanding these laudabie endeavours on both sides to put an end to the reign of discord, the cup of harmony was near being dashed from their lips by the indiscreet zeal of some of the Orangemen, who dressed the statue surreptitiously. An explanation, however, was offered, and the catholics were assured that this unauthorised act implied no breach of faith. As the lord mayor was most active on the protestant side, so, on the Roman catholic side, Mr. Daniel O'Connell, whose character and eloquence had now raised him to a position of great influence, took a leading and most effective part. Owing to the exertions of these two leaders of extreme parties, whose personal friendship lasted through life, a memorable public dinner, to commemorate the coronation, had taken place at Morrison's Hotel, when four hundred of the most distinguished protestants and catholics sate down at the same table, the tickets being two guineas each. The lord mayor presided, and the vice-chair was occupied by the earl of Fingal. Fifteen hogsheads of porter were given to the people to drink the king's health. All the speeches breathed conciliation. Mr. O'Connell, in responding for the health of " the stewards," said, " In sorrow and in bitterness, but with the best intention, lie had for the last fifteen years ineffectually laboured for his unhappy country. One bright day had now realised &U his fond expectations. Next to the gratification of the present scene was the expected arrival of his majesty, who came of his own free will, the sound of his footsteps proclaiming unanimity and peace. On this occasion the protestant was ready to meet the catholic, and the catholic the protestant; and surely, from a prince who declared that the crown was only kept for the benefit of the people, everything was to be expected." This unprecedented meeting was the prelude to the universal harmony that accompanied the royal visit.

As the king was to land privately and to proceed to the viceregal lodge in Phoenix Park without entering the city, it was uncertain whether he would come by Dunleary or Howth. There was an idea that he would land at the former place on Sunday, the 12th of August, and immense crowds lined the coast during the day, watching for the approach of the steamer. They were disappointed, for his majesty arrived at Howth about five o'clock. The congregations from the different churches were waiting on the pier, to which the royal carriage had driven rapidly down, when all eyes were strained to get a glimpse of the sovereign - the first king of England that had ever come to Ireland on a mission of peace. At length the Lightning steam-packet, captain Skinner, came near the pier-head. For a few minutes there was breathless suspense, the anxious hearts of the spectators beating high, till some person, recognising his majesty on board, cried out, IC The king! " when the multitude enthusiastically exclaimed, " The king, the king, God bless him! " This was followed by immense cheering, repeated again and again, when the king stood forward, and, taking off his cap, flourished it over his head several times. He was dressed in a blue frock, blue pantaloons, Hessian boots, with a black cravat, white silk gloves, and a foraging cap with gold lace. He was accompanied by the marquis of Londonderry, the marquis of Thomond, lord Mount Charles, lord Francis Conyngham, and Mr. Freeling, secretary to the post office, England. A small ship-ladder, covered with carpeting, was fixed, to facilitate his landing. This he ascended without assistance, and with great agility. As the narrow pier was crowded to excess, he found himself jammed in by a mass of people, who could not be displaced without throwing numbers of them into the water. Though he had reason to be displeased with the want of proper arrangements, he bore the inconvenience with good humour; indeed, his majesty was very jolly, owing it is said, to copious drafts of Irish whisky punch with which he had drowned sorrow, during the voyage, for the loss of the queen. On seeing lord Kingston in the crowd, he exclaimed, " Kingston, Kingston, you black-whiskered, good-natured fellow, I am happy to see you in this friendly country." Having recognised Mr. Dennis Bowles Daly, he cordially shook hands with that gentleman, who at the moment was deprived of a gold watch, worth sixty guineas, and a pocket-book, by one of the light-fingered gentry. The king also shook hands with numbers of the persons present who were wholly strangers to him. At length his majesty managed to get into his carriage, and as he did so, the cheers of the multitude rent the air. Ile turned to the people, and, extending both his hands, said, with great emotion, " God bless you all. I thank you from my heart." Seemingly exhausted, he threw himself back in the carriage; but on the cheering being renewed, he bent forward again, and, taking off his cap, bowed most graciously to the ladies and those around him. One of the horses became restive on the pier, but a gentleman, regardless of personal danger, led him till he became manageable. The cavalcade drove rapidly to town, and proceeded by the Circular Road to the park. On the way there was a constant accession of horsemen, who all rode uncovered. When they came to the entrance of the demesne, the gentlemen halted outside the gate, not wishing to intrude, when the king put out his head and said, " Come on, my friends." On alighting from his carriage he turned round at the door, and addressed those present in nearly the following words: - "My lords and gentlemen, and my good yeomanry, - I cannot express to you the gratification I feel at the warm and kind reception I have met with on this day of my landing among my Irish subjects. I am obliged to you all. I am particularly obliged by your escorting me to my very door. I may not be able to express my feelings as I wish. I have travelled far, I havo made a long sea voyage; besides which, particular circumstances have occurred, known to you all, of which it is better at present not to speak; upon those subjects I leave it to delicate and generous hearts to appreciate my feelings. This is one of the happiest days of my life. I have long wished to visit you; my heart has been always with the Irish; from the day it first beat I have loved Ireland. This day has shown me that I am beloved by my Irish subjects. Rank, station, honours, are nothing; but to feel that I live in the hearts of my Irish subjects is to me exalted happiness. I must now once more thank you for your kindness, and bid you farewell. Go and do by me as I shall do by you - drink my health in a bumper; I shall drink all yours in a bumper of good Irish whisky."

The last words of this speech were addressed jocosely to some of the lower class who thronged round, their faces beaming with admiring loyalty. His majesty shook hands most cordially and indiscriminately with the persons near him. It is a singular fact that there was not a soldier or policeman visible in the whole line from Howth to the park. There were no guards, no pomp, no ceremony. The king appeared in " fatigue dress," and found himself all at once in the midst of an eager crowd of his Irish subjects on the first moment of his landing, and this in a country the disaffection and turbulence of whose people had been a constant trouble to his government.

The royal visit to Ireland, like all the public displays of George IV., had its secret history, which did not exhibit him in the most favourable light. The " Memoirs of the Court of George IV." contain private letters, now published for the first time, which throw fresh light upon those transactions, and give some of them a rather ludicrous aspect. Mr. W. H. Freemantle, writing to the marquis of Buckingham, says, " I don't know whether you have heard any of the details from Ireland, but the conduct of the Irish is beyond all conception of loyalty and adulation, and I fear will serve to strengthen those feelings of self- will and personal authority which are at all times uppermost in ' the mind.' The passage to Dublin was occupied in eating goose-pie and drinking whisky, of which his majesty partook most abundantly, singing many joyous songs, and being in a state on his arrival to double in sight even the number of his gracious subjects assembled on the pier to receive him. The fact was that he was in the last stage of intoxication: however, they got him to the park."

But whatever happened on board ship, and whether or not the king was " half-seas over," he acquitted himself so as to excite the boundless admiration of his Irish subjects.

On Monday the lawn before the viceregal lodge was covered with carriages and vehicles of every description, filled with ladies anxious to get even a distant view of the king. Among these, equestrians and pedestrians were crowding; and, from the number of standings, and basket- women moving about, the place had the appearance of Donnybrook fair. But his majesty, wishing to remain as private as possible until his public entry, did not appear. On Wednesday he held a private levée to receive the state functionaries, who were ordered to appear in mourning.

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Pictures for Visit of George IV. to Ireland

Castle bridge and Sackville street
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Daniel OConnel.
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Entry of George IV. into Dublin
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