How the Markets fell in love with Prince Charles

By Jude Collins (

Sometimes I feel ashamed to be a Catholic and one such occasion happened last week.

Prince Charles visited Belfast and as we all know, he’s an expert on architecture (“If it’s new it’s awful”) so what building did he request to see? Of all the buildings in all of Belfast: St Malachy’s Catholic Church. Now he could have been shown round it by the local parish priest or by a local expert in Church architecture or by one of his own architectural flunkies, and then gone home. But no. He was shown around by St Malachy’s parish priest, but quickly in attendance also was a flurry of Catholic clergy led by Bishop Noel Trainor. All were ‘presented’ to the Colonel-in-Chief of the Parachute Regiment, as were, inevitably, a few SDLPers led by Alastair McDonnell.

Why did Charles Windsor choose St Malachy’s to view? Because it’s in the Markets area, a strongly nationalist/republican place, and if he’d tried visiting there a decade or two back, some people might well have tried to kill him. So this was to show how much times have changed and how Belfast Catholics now like royals. Yes it’s true that perhaps 80% of the nationalist population of the area aren’t Catholics in any active sense of that word. It’s also true, as my former columnist colleague Brian Feeney pointed out on BBC Radio Ulster this morning, that the conflict here never was about religion and that efforts by Church leaders to present themselves as speaking for the population were fraudulent. But hey, let’s forget the past, shall we? Prince Charles and his second wife Camilla visited the Markets area and visited a Catholic church. As commentators like RTE’s ineffable Tommy Gorman told us, Charlieboy’s visit is highly significant because it smoothes the way for a visit to the south of Ireland later this year by his mother, probably in May. And that will be significant because it will be the final sign that relations between Ireland and Britain have been normalized.

George Orwell, you who invented the term doublespeak, are you listening? One country has over 5,000 troops stationed on the territory of its neighbour, against the will of the majority of the people. It exercises political control over the north-east corner of that neighbour, against the will of the majority of the people. And politicians and the media now tell us relations are ‘normalized’? Come off it, chaps. The present situation is normal only in the sense that this bullying dominance has been going on for nearly one hundred years. If normal means decent or mutually agreed or permanent, then only the likes of Tommy and the clergy and others of a unionist disposition who swarmed to greet the Colonel-in-Chief last week could cod themselves that we’re on the brink of normality.

Footnote: Having soaked up the unctiousness around St Malachy’s, the Colonel-in-Chief of the regiment that killed thirteen people on Bloody Sunday hurried to Palace Barracks, where he decorated some British soldiers and wished well to others getting ready to ‘serve’ in Afghanistan. Stand by to be told thatf relations between Britain and Afghanistan are nearing normalisation. If it can happen here without nationalists standing up and shouting ‘Bollocks!’, it can happen anywhere.

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