Reaction in Ireland

Published in 20th-century / Contemporary History, Features, Issue 5 (Sep/Oct 2008), Volume 16

For the first time since Parnell—and in less upsetting circumstances for Ireland—the story of Edward and Mrs Simpson gave Irish people the chance to discuss marriage and divorce openly.
Eileen Clare, a Wexford girl sent to a convent boarding-school in England, remembers the fascination with the romance among the Irish nuns. When she returned home for the Christmas holidays, she was met by her Uncle Pat, a local farmer, in his pony and trap. ‘And the first thing he said was “What kind of people are they in England—they won’t let the poor king marry the woman he loves?” ’
Neasa McEnery’s recollection was that ‘most Irish people were sorry for King Edward . . . my aunt in Dublin said it was time that women of 40 [Mrs Simpson was 41] were put on the map!’ To Neasa, then a young schoolgirl, ‘Edward VIII was young and handsome and ranked second only to my adoration of Michael Collins’. This ecumenical jostling of republican and royal emblems was not unknown in Irish households.
Maeve O’Connor from Dalkey recalls that her father, a civil servant, expressed ‘sadness and regret, as, like many of his friends and colleagues, he respected Edward and his attitude towards Ireland, which was decidedly friendly’.
Among left-wing republicans, the correct attitude was ‘passive’ and ‘aloof’: some Catholic republicans said that since the Church of England was founded on Henry VIII’s divorce the fuss was all hypocrisy. Strong republicans preferred to focus their attention on outrage that the king should have any link with the Irish Free State at all.
On the other hand, Irish Protestants, such as Maurice Bryan, born in 1929, heard his family allude disparagingly to Wallis’s American ‘slack morals’. There was ‘disappointment that the king had not “done his duty” ’.
Romantics weren’t interested in either the constitutional or theocratic aspect. They were just thrilled by the story. Marilyn Keogh of Limerick still has in her possession an American magazine of 1936 ‘devoted entirely to Wallis . . . and her romance with Edward VIII’. It was pored over by her mother and aunts and kept ‘almost as a family heirloom’. Among Irish romantics who supported Edward and Mrs Simpson was the poet W. B. Yeats.

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