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Thurles The Princess Diana Invitation

I never really believed that the late Princess Diana would ever accept an invitation to visit Thurles, but ‘nothing ventured ‘ for Thurles, can often result in ‘nothing gained.

Over 4 million British tourists had visited the Republic of Ireland in 2006. Tourism in Thurles was then practically non existent, with those responsible for marketing North Tipperary, only pushing their products west of the Shannon, in an attempt to justify earlier politically influenced public finances spent in funding in counties Limerick, Clare and Galway, while ignoring projects in the environs of Thurles, a practise they appear to still continue, as part of their marketing strategy today.

To cut a long story short, the following ‘Letter of Invitation‘ was penned and sent to Kensington Palace. I was encourage in this venture by the recently deceased Mr Ned Ryan, Upperchurch, and also by friend and lifetime museum patron, the late Mr Matty Ryan, both of whom had close associations with the late Princess Margaret, Countess of Snowdon, and younger sister of Queen Elizabeth II.

Our communicated invitation read as follows:-

Kensington Palace,
London W8 4PU

Date :- 22/ 7/ 1997.

Your Highness, Diana, Princess Of Wales,
On behalf of the people of Thurles, the members of our committee and myself, I would like to extend an invitation to Your Highness, to visit the home of your ancestors here in County Tipperary, Ireland.

As you maybe aware, your ascendancy were protectors and rulers of Thurles until 1841 and it is the intention of this committee to erect a stone testimonial,to commemorate your progenitor, Lady Elizabeth Butler, Viscountess Thurles, (1587-1673).

It is now the fervent desire of this committee, that You Highness would greatly honour us by unveiling this stone inscription.

We are very much aware of your many personal and public commitments, both at home and abroad, and fully comprehend that significant preparations would need to be put in position between, both Her Majestie’s Government and the Government of the Irish Republic, before such a visit could take place.

If, however, Your Highness were to signal her willingness and availability to accept this invitation, immediate preparations could be entered into, which would conform with your busy agenda.

It is our heartfelt wish that Your Highness will find time, in her busy calendar of events, to accept this invitation sometime in the near future.

I remain,
Yours most sincerely,

St. Mary’s Famine Memorial Church, Thurles, Co. Tipperary.

The reply from Kensington Palace

We were aware that, politically, it was not possibly the best time in our nations history to send such an invitation. Then Fianna Fail Minister for Foreign Affairs, and later disgraced T.D., Mr Ray Burke, had days before, just welcomed the decision taken by the Orange Order, with regard to certain of their Annual Marches, which gave space for all feuding factions in the North, to consider how the whole marching issue could be handled on the basis of respect for the rights of all, both the Orange Order and the wider community alike.

The now deceased, but then Northern Ireland Secretary Mow Mowlam had hinted that substantive negotiations, seeking a genuinely new political dispensation, based on equality, parity of esteem, respect for human rights and the principle of consent, were about to begin that September in Northern Ireland.  Sinn Féin were being encouraged to take their place at the Conference Table, to represent the views of those who supported them. Fair and reasonable assurances had been spelled out with regards to what was expected by both British and Irish negotiators, before Sinn Féin would be allowed take part in these upcoming negotiations.

That same July 1997, the Democratic Unionist party leader Ian Paisley would vote against the Anglo-Irish plan for guerrilla disarmament, storming out of the voting session in Stormont Castle, near Belfast, while stating his party was out of the peace talks for good, while Mowlam confirmed that Sinn Fein would now sit at the negotiating table, when peace talks would resume in September of the same year.

Princess Diana’s reply to our invitation arrived six days later in a letter from Kensington Palace and as expected her reply, pictured here, disappointingly spelt out her sincere regret. We now share this letter with you, our readers, for the very first time. (Click on Letter Image to enlarge.)

A little over just 4 weeks later, on the 31st of August 1997, Diana, Princess of Wales, was fatally injured as a result of a car collision in the Pont de l’Alma road tunnel in Paris, France. Her companion, Dodi Fayed, and the driver of the Mercedes-Benz W140, Henri Paul, were pronounced dead at the scene of the accident. Fayed’s bodyguard, Trevor Rees-Jones, was the only survivor. Although earlier the media pinned the blame on the paparazzi, the crash was ultimately found to be caused by the reckless actions of the chauffeur, who was the head of security at the Ritz and had earlier goaded the paparazzi waiting outside the hotel.

An eighteen-month French judicial investigation concluded in 1999, that the crash was caused by Henri Paul, who lost control of the car at high speed, while under the influence of alcohol, which may have been made worse by the simultaneous presence of an antidepressant and traces of a tranquilizer in his body.

On hearing the news, Thurles ladies began to arrive with bouquets of flowers to the door of St Mary’s Church here in Thurles, in an unprecedented show of sympathy and solidarity.

July 31st each year I often think, what an ambassador this world has truly lost and what if the Princess had decided to visit her ancestral home of Thurles, instead of visiting France, on that fateful day in 2007.

But then each person’s road, while on this earth, is so often paved with numerous  ‘what if ‘s.’

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