Irish State papers 1975 — President Patrick Hillery and the wedding of Charles and Diana

Irish State papers 1975 — President Patrick Hillery and the wedding of Charles and Diana

THE YEAR 1981 saw the Troubles continue with relentless violence. Killings, assassinations, bombings and reprisals continued throughout the year — in January Bernadette McAliskey (formally Devlin) and her husband were shot and seriously injured in a gun attack in their home near Coalisland, Co. Tyrone. In the same month Norman Stronge (86), a former speaker of the Stormont parliament, and James Stronge (48), his son, were shot dead by the IRA.

The H-Block Hunger Strike began, and on May 5 Bobby Sands died on the 66th day of his hunger strike.

It was against this background that an invitation arrived at Áras an Uachtaráin for President Patrick Hillery to attend the wedding of Prince Charles and Princess Diana. The invite arrived just four weeks after the death of Bobby Sands. Northern Ireland was in turmoil, and Anglo-Irish relations had reached something of a nadir.

State papers just released into the Irish National Archives reveal that on the advice of government advisers — including Taoiseach Charles Haughey — it was decided that President Hillery should turn down the invitation and not travel to Westminster Abbey.

The Press Association reports that the document drew up a balanced overview of whether the president should attend.

“The present state of Anglo-Irish relations, and specifically the very general feeling of dissatisfaction in both the north and the south with the British Government’s policy on prison conditions in Northern Ireland would ensure that there would be much unfavourable comment if the President were to attend the royal wedding,” the document said.

Finally, after deciding that to go would have raised so much opprobrium on both sides of the border, it was deemed that the President would not go to London.

But the Dublin government officials argued that an “appropriate diplomatic excuse” would be required as Britain was, after all, a ‘friendly’ country, and at that time a fellow EU member. Diplomatic niceties would have to be observed.

Instead an RSVP was sent, pleading that President Hillery “had prior commitments”, and would not be able to attend.

Charles and Diana’s wedding was attended by most of the heads of state of Europe, and guests from around the world. The only other notable European absences aside from President Hillery were King Juan Carlos I and Queen Sofía of Spain and the Greek head of state. The Spanish king was "advised" not to attend by his government because the newlyweds' honeymoon included a stopover in the disputed territory of Gibraltar. The President of Greece, Constantine Karamanlis declined because Greece's exiled monarch, Constantine II, related to the Duke of Edinburgh and friend of the bridegroom, had been invited as "King of the Hellenes".

Princess Diana herself had Irish blood. Her great-grandfather on her mother’s side James Roche, 3rd Baron Fermoy, an Irish peer, was an Anti-Parnellite Member of Parliament for Kerry East 1896-1900. Diana also had Irish blood through father's family, the Spencers.