Happy is the Vicereine who has the knack of bringing witty and amusing people together at her dinners. It is expected in Ireland that things should be gay and bright, and that a joke or a bon mot be received encouragingly. A Catholic priest often is hard to beat at after-dinner stories. It is, however, unnecessary to place him in the immediate vicinity of an ultra-protestant clergyman. This was the favourite plan of one Vicereine, who thus thought to bridge over religious animosities.
The jovial Mr. Creevoy nearly had his appetite spoiled at a Dublin Castle dinner by the settled gloom" of my Lady Anglesey and " the forbidding frown of the Lady Pagets." The incident illustrates what a Vicereine should not be. On this particular occasion the Lord-lieutenant came gaily to the rescue, and told stories, properly spiced with gentlemanly invective, about the people who came to the garden of his old house at Waterloo to see where the leg which he had lost was buried. The company was highly satisfied, and drank wine with his Excellency and with each other on the best of terms.
The Banquet Hall, Dublin Castle Lawrence, Dublin
The Vicereine must be an indefatigable worker. Innumerable bazaars and balls and visits to hospitals, convents, colleges, schools, and national manufactories will fill in every crevice of time. In addition, there is every day an enormous post-bag with which she and her secretaries have to deal. Possibly she may be called upon to decide whether some " Widow M'gurk " is qualified for an old age pension.
The Dublin season keeps her occupied from January to March with the State Drawing Rooms, dinners, and receptions. The season culminates with St. Patrick's Ball, which is held on March 17 in the splendid mirror-lined hall of the Castle, which bears St. Patrick's name.
This is the time of times for debutam who at recent Drawing Rooms passed the presence of their Excellencies. Then they appear in full glory of Court plumes and veils, many of which get rather damaged in the hours after supper, when the Viceregal party retire, and dancing grows fast and furious. Only the spirits of an Irish girl would be equal to grappling with the difficulties of disarranged plumes. In days gone by the regulations for St. Patrick's Ball were less formal than to-day, and there are accounts of lively scenes when the guests picnicked on the floor of the supper-rooms.
The custom of the salute on the cheek ceased at St. James's in the reign of George IV., but so late as the 'seventies it continued in Dublin, and was in full force during the viceroyalty of the Duke of Abercorn, " Old Magnificent," who, it is said, sometimes stopped the Drawing Room while he combed and scented his beard, disarranged by the modest salutes of the debutantes. Some wag has it that particularly pretty debutantes were made to pass the dais a second time.
Amongst the special functions which demand the State attendance of the Vicereine are the ever-popular Punchestown races, the Derby of Ireland, when the national spirit of fun and frolic is seen in a delightful aspect.
The Dublin Horse Show in August is a more fashionable function which claims her Excellency's attention and gives great opportunity for attractive toilettes. If the Vicereine be a lover of horses and a good horsewoman, she has a sure passport to the heart of the Irish.
The late Lady Cadogan endeared herself to the Irish because, at the beginning of her Viceregal reign, in spite of torrents of rain, she accompanied the Lord-lieutenant to Baldoyle races on St. Patrick's Day.
When the seventh Duke of Marlborough reigned at Dublin Castle, his daughters, all excellent horsewomen, and his son and private secretary, Lord Randolph Churchill, and his lively, charming wife, delighted the local gentry and the peasantry by their indefatigable hunting. There was scarcely a pack of hounds that they did not go out with at some time or another.
The popular Vicereine makes the "wearin' o' the green" her sacred duty. Every Viceroy ought to present his wife with a new set of emeralds to celebrate his appointment. It still remains for a Vicereine to go yet further back in the history of Ireland and adopt the ancient national colour of saffron.
When the Castle season closes in March the Mansion House season begins, and the position of the Lord Mayor of Dublin has ancient rights and privileges which place it sometimes in rivalry to the Viceregal court. All depends upon the political bias of the Lord Mayor. The Vicereine can do much to bridge over these difficulties by entering heartily into the civic festivities, and showing due regard to the etiquette of the Mansion House.
In spring, when Ireland is truly the Emerald Isle, the Viceregal Court leaves the Castle for the Lodge, in Phoenix Park. To use an Irishism, "the front of the house is at the back," and commands a delightful view over the pleasure gardens across the Park, where deer stand in picturesque groups, to the Dublin mountains and the snow-capped heights of the Wicklow Hills.
The view from the Vicereine's boudoir is delightful, and all the pretty chintzes and draperies are of Irish manufacture. The Park and grounds of the Lodge afford her Excellency a charming place for al fresco entertainments, whether garden parties or philanthropic fetes.
Unfortunately, Ireland has long been a distressed country, but there are many ways in which the Vicereine can minister to her needs. When the seventh Duke of Marlborough was Viceroy, the duchess won great popularity, during the terrible famine time, by starting the Irish Relief Fund, which reached the figure of 135.000.
Queen Victoria, in a personal letter, conferred upon her the Victoria and Albert Order in recognition of this work. A touching story is told by her daughter-in-law, Lady Randolph Churchill. On her dying bed the duchess gave directions to her eldest son that the Queen's letter should be kept in the archives of Blenheim, adding, "I may seem a useless old woman now, but this letter will show you I was once of some importance, and did good in my day."
Lady Aberdeen is prominent amongst the Vicereines for promoting Irish industries. To her the Irish Industries Association owes its inception, but, owing to the defeat of the Gladstone Ministry, her husband's first term of office, in 1886, lasted only a few months. In that brief time, however, Lady Aberdeen won a secure place in the hearts of the Irish people. Better lo'ed ye canna be; Wull ye no come back again?" and "True friends of Ireland and her industries" were among the farewell mottoes to be seen in Dublin when Lord and Lady Aberdeen left the Castle.
The ex-vicereine did not cease her efforts because she was out of office, and continued an active interest in promoting the Irish Industries Association. She also organised the Irish Village at the Chicago Exhibition, and travelled with a party of helpers through the wilds of West Ireland, visiting the lace-makers and other workers in their cottage homes. No place was too remote, nor the cabin too small, for Lady Aberdeen to visit.
When, after the lapse of nineteen years, Lord and Lady Aberdeen returned to Dublin Castle in 1905, their welcome was very warm. The memory of their first brief triumph augured well for the future.
Her Excellency is still pursuing her policy of Ireland for the Irish, for she loves the country, and the blood of the O'neils mingles with her Scottish ancestry. It is understood that ladies who attend the Dublin Drawing Rooms and other functions are expected to wear dresses and lace of Irish manufacture.
Her Excellency has also extended invitations to sections of Dublin society not before included in the Castle invitations. She has visited in the outlying parts of the country, and is devoting herself to the extension of the nursing scheme started by Lady Dudley. The death of her son, Lord Archibald Gordon, threw a sadness over the viceregal family in 1909, and the death of his Majesty King Edward has also affected the Castle gaieties. But when public social duties are lighter, Lady Aberdeen finds more time for furthering the benevolent schemes so dear to her heart. Lady Dudley's term as Vicereine (1902-5) was made memorable by her initiation in 1903 of a scheme for providing district nurses in the poorest and most remote parts of Ireland. For a portion of the year, Lord and Lady Dudley and their family lived in a delightful country house in Connemara, and in the course of their motoring tours, far out in the wilds, visited the peasantry in their desolate cabins. It was the neglect of the sick which she noticed, owing to the inaccessibility of doctor and nurse, which moved Lady Dudley to start her nursing scheme.
She had the happy privilege of introducing King Edward and Queen Alexandra into some typical Irish homes in Connemara during the visit of their Majesties to Ireland. On one occasion they entered a weaver's cottage, only a few feet square, and so low that the Queen had to stoop very much to enter. The family were at tea, and her Majesty patted the tanned faces of the barelegged boys and girls, and chatted gaily with the awe-struck parents. Then, seeing some Connemara tweed on the loom, she purchased thirty-five yards of the material. It has never happened before that a Vicereine has had the happy privilege of bringing a Queen to buy direct from the peasant's loom.
Amongst the Vicereines of modern times, the late Lady Cadogan will be remembered for the indefatigable manner in which she devoted herself to her public duties throughout the long term of seven years (1895-1902) in which her husband was Lord-lieutenant. She was a notable hostess, to the manner born, and the Castle during her reign was a gay social centre. Lady Cadogan also gave great attention to encouraging the silk, poplin, and linen industries of the country.
The position of Vicereine of Ireland may be difficult and arduous enough, but it affords great possibility for interesting and benevolent work, and the opportunity for promoting a friendly feeling with the Sister Isle not only in social and industrial aspects, but in connection with her national literature, art, and drama.