I am so at home in Dublin, more than any other city, that I feel it has always been familiar to me. It took me years to see through its soft charm to its bitter prickly kernel - which I quite like too.

Home Uncategorized Where Late The Sweet Birds Sang

Where Late The Sweet Birds Sang

Enda O’Doherty
On the death of Queen Elizabeth in her seventieth year in 1603 the English crown passed with very little fuss from the Tudor to the Stuart dynasty. James Stuart, king of Scotland since the age of one after the forced abdication and flight of his mother, Mary Stuart, in 1567, now became monarch twice over, as King James VI of Scotland and I of England. His first address to an English parliament, delayed by an outbreak of plague until the year after his accession, argued forcefully that the two realms fortuitously joined together by his dual kingship should henceforth be politically united too, since God had “made us all in one land, compassed with one sea”. There was, he pointed out, no significant physical barrier – no great river or mountain range – dividing Scotland from England. More debatably perhaps, he asserted that God, “by his almighty providence”, had already united the two kingdoms in language, religion and similarity of customs. Through his royal person the British island had become “a little world within itself”, joined together in amity and, surrounded by the natural “pond or ditch” of the sea, self-sufficient and now strong enough to feel secure from foreign enemies. Though James’s focus here is clearly on his desire to politically and constitutionally bind England and Scotland together – a project which he was not able to bring to fruition ‑ it is difficult not to be reminded of a famous passage from Shakespeare’s Richard II (dated to 1595 or 1596) in which the dying John of Gaunt laments what he sees as England’s decline under the weak rule of his nephew Richard and evokes an idealised past, a time when it was possible to rejoice in the kingdom as                               this seat of Mars, This other Eden, demi-paradise, This fortress built by nature for herself Against infection and the hand of war, This happy breed of men, this little world, This precious stone set in the silver sea, Which serves it in the office of a wall, Or as a moat defensive to a house, Against the envy of less happier lands, This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England … Gaunt’s thoughts here are certainly not of “Britain”: in his lifetime the term had little more than a geographical signification. For much of the fourteenth century indeed – Gaunt died in 1399 –the Scots and English had been…



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