John Michell tries to solve the Irish question from an ancient angle
According to Geoffrey Wheatcroft in the Sunday Telegraph, the problem of Ireland is insoluble. That is only true within the conventions of modern thinking. The history of Ireland shows that the same problem as today, of one island containing different peoples, has always existed, and there has always been the same ideal solution to it.
Ancient Ireland was divided into four provinces, Ulster (N), Munster (S), Leinster (E) and Connacht (W). Each province had a king and managed its affairs at a seasonal meeting, which was imitated by lesser assemblies for each region and clan.
On the day of the national festival, the four provincial chiefs, each with two lesser kings and a hierarchically ordered retinue, formed a ceremonial group around the High King in Meath (Middle), regarded as the fifth province, situated between the other four at the centre of the island.
The authority of the High King was mystical and symbolic. At his installation he was ritually married to the female spirit of Ireland, and he represented the unity of the country. His duties were mainly cultural, to uphold standards of music, poetry and the arts and to maintain established customs. As chairman to the council of 12 provincial leaders, he ratified their agreements and sanctioned laws and initiatives on behalf of the nation, but it was not his business to interfere directly in the governing of tribes and regions.
This was the traditional model of society, known in all the Celtic realms, in Scandinavia, throughout Greece, in Africa and the East and, at different times, worldwide. Based on a traditional cosmology and a science of statecraft, now temporarily forgotten, it was supposed to allow the greatest possible amount of personal and local independence within a federal structure that was supported largely by the power of sanctified custom, myth and music.
In affirming that this ideal model, diluted, is the inevitable and practical means of bringing about the happiness of Ireland — and many other afflicted countries — one is merely being orthodox and unoriginal.
Nothing in this proposal is newfangled or invented, for the restoration of Ireland’s High King is only the restoration of normality.
All this was seen ten years ago by Constantine Fitzgibbon, who imagined a federation of the four historic provinces in which ‘each would elect its own parliament and have its own police force and complete control of its own internal affairs’. His choice for the national capital was Armagh where reside both the Roman Catholic and the Church of Ireland primate.
The practical solution to the problem of Ireland is also the ideal solution. Unfortunately, due to deep-rooted errors in modern education, the ideal and the real are commonly regarded as different and irreconcilable. Yet, as Plato taught, unless you clarify and actively pursue the ideal you will never get anywhere.
Politicians tinker around with low-level plots and pacts which irritate all parties, but were they to raise their eyes and contemplate the ideal, they could not only please everybody but spread lasting delight over the whole country.
As to who should be the High King or High Queen (subject to adjustments of the mating ritual at the coronation) of Ireland, that is none of my business. Since his or her duties consist mainly of patronizing the national and cultural institutions and receiving foreign dignitaries, any educated and well-mannered old boy or old girl would do — for the time being. Soon, of course, under the influence of idealism, higher perceptions will prevail, and Ireland will once more be ruled by philosopher kings and sagely administered by bards and scholars. Is this not exactly what everyone wants?