Shaping documentary narratives through the RTÉ television programme, ‘The Queen and Us’ on Queen Elizabeth II’s visit to Ireland, 17 May 2011

Submitting Institution

University of Ulster

Unit of Assessment


Summary Impact Type


Research Subject Area(s)

Language, Communication and Culture: Literary Studies
History and Archaeology: Historical Studies

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Summary of the impact

James Loughlin's peer-reviewed research on the British monarchy's role in Ireland formed the essential basis for Irish state broadcaster's, RTÉ's, account of Elizabeth II's historic visit to the Irish Republic in 2011. He was advisor to the programme-makers from inception and his work formed the spine of the resulting documentary, `The Queen and Us'. Loughlin's research fundamentally shaped how the programmers presented knowledge of the monarchy's standing in Ireland, both historically and contemporaneously, and influenced strongly their creative practice. Audience levels reached 400,000+, including the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh themselves. The work spread worldwide via the RTÉ player.

Underpinning research

The British monarchy's relationship with Ireland had long been a neglected area of historical research, and apart from one other work which dealt with Irish nationalism and the crown in the reign of Queen Victoria, Loughlin's Cambridge University Press book was the first comprehensive study of the subject.

Loughlin's research was undertaken from 1998 to the present. It is based on several types of historical research of which the following are representative examples: archival research of private papers at the Royal Archives in Windsor Castle, the House of Lords Record Office London, the Public Records Office Belfast, and the Irish National Archives Dublin; press research at the British Library newspaper holdings,Colindale; and library research at Trinity College Dublin, Queen's University, and the Irish Section of Belfast Public Library.

The knowledge and understanding revealed by the research is much broader than that used in the television work described in this impact case study. For example, the role of the Irish Vice- Royalty and the debate about whether to establish a royal residence in Ireland was a core part of it. RTÉ's development of key aspects of this research within their programme demonstrates its richness and range.

Loughlin is alone among scholars of Ireland and the monarchy in examining both twentieth- century and nineteenth-century dimensions. It is the crucial later period, after Partition, and through the lens of Northern Ireland's continuing relations with monarchy, that Loughlin's work was able to provide a basis for creative content that other historians' could not. This is why the programme-makers turned to him and why his work formed the continuous spine of influence throughout.

The principal research findings underpinning impact in the case study focused on the development of the monarchy's role with respect to Northern Ireland since partition in 1921, and especially how the crucial period of World War II set Northern Ireland apart from Éire, which remained neutral. The period coincided with World War II and the maturing into adulthood of the present Queen, who developed a close relationship with Northern Ireland, which has lasted to the present day. The interplays between Northern Irish views of monarchy and those of the Republic also shape Loughlin's work and grant it additional importance. That relationship provided a prism through which Ireland as a whole was seen, and was the background against which the Queen's visit to the Irish Republic in May took place.

References to the research

The British Monarchy and Ireland: 1800 to the Present (Cambridge University Press, 2007; 2nd paperback edn, 2011). 416pp. Major peer-reviewed monograph with leading academic publisher submitted to RAE2008.

`Crown, Spectacle and Identity: the British Monarchy and Ireland under the Union 1800-1922' in Andrzej Olechnowicz (ed.), The Monarchy and the British Nation, 1780 to the Present (Cambridge University Press, 2007), pp. 108-136. Peer reviewed chapter with major academic publisher.

`Allegiance and Illusion: Queen Victoria's Irish Visit of 1849', History, vol. 87, no. 288 (October, 2002), pp. 491-513. Peer reviewed journal article submitted to RAE2008.


`The British Monarchy and the Irish Viceroyalty: Politics, Architecture and Place 1870-1914' in Peter Gray and Olwen Purdue (eds), The Irish Lord Lieutenancy c. 1541 -1922 (University College Dublin Press, 2012), pp. 179-198. Peer reviewed chapter with a leading academic publisher; submitted to REF2014.

Details of the impact

The impact had two main strands; firstly, Loughlin's research directly influenced the creative practice of the programme maker and secondly, his insights helped creative professionals and a major broadcasting organisation adapt to changes in the historical and cultural landscape in Ireland that, by 2011, enabled a ground-breaking visit by the British monarch. RTÉ made contact with Loughlin due to the reach of his work and his reputation. An initial approach was via the University of Ulster's Press Office, in March 2011. Loughlin was then contacted directly about his research by the Executive Producer of the `The Queen and Us' and Northern Editor for RTÉ. Loughlin helped the Producer formulate a series of questions to shape the range, tone and direction of the programme. These questions then became the basis of the Producer's 90-minute-long interview with Loughlin in April 2011. The research findings presented and recorded at that interview were used specifically to discuss a number of points that subsequently shaped the core content of the RTÉ progamme, `The Queen and Us', which was timed to coincide with the Queen's visit. RTÉ's Producer was, as a result, `delighted to acknowledge that your expertise provided the spine for the programme's narrative' (Email statement, 9 November 2013). He also explained the main themes which Loughlin and his work framed (email 31 October 2011):

  1. The history of Anglo-Irish tension from 1800 onwards and the expectations and disappointments in respect to the Anglo-Irish treaty of 1921 (Loughlin, `Crown, Spectacle and Identity: the British Monarchy and Ireland under the Union 1800-1922' in Olechnowicz (ed.), Monarchy and the British Nation, pp.108-36).
  2. The importance of Éire's neutrality during World War II (Loughlin, British Monarchy and Ireland, pp. 348-55).
  3. How the war impacted on Princess Elizabeth (Loughlin, British Monarchy and Ireland, pp. 348-52).
  4. How and why she viewed Ireland through an Ulster prism (Loughlin, British Monarchy and Ireland, pp. 350-52, 390).
  5. Her visits to Northern Ireland, especially their significance at different times since 1969 (Loughlin, British Monarchy and Ireland, pp. 351-2, 355, 358-9, 363-7, 369-76, 381-3).
  6. The significance of the joint visit of the Queen and the Irish President, Mary McAleese, to the Great War memorial at Messines in Belgium and its importance in marking a positive change in Anglo-Irish relations (Loughlin, British Monarchy and Ireland, pp. 379-81).

Whilst interviewing Loughlin provided the spine of the programme, researchers also made full use of his book and shorter works in structuring their narrative of Ireland's relationship with the Queen.

Interviewed under the on-screen tag `Dr James Loughlin, Author, The British Monarchy and Ireland', his input was so singular that the Producer was able to acknowledge him as `the sole historian to feature in what was a significant hour of important public service programme'. Additionally, he added, `as you know, you featured prominently during the progamme' (email, 13 May 2011; email statement, 9 November 2013; DVD copy of the programme). Loughlin thus appeared alongside a list of prominent interviewees including former US Senator and Special Envoy to Northern Ireland, George Mitchell; Prime Minister David Cameron; and President Mary McAleese.

The wider impact of the programme may be understood in terms of individual and public understanding of the history and contemporary relevance of the visit. The programme was part of a concerted series of news, media and programming items timed to coincide with the Queen's visit. The programme itself, was watched by over 400,000 people when broadcast on 17 May 2011 (source: Producer's email, 31 October 2011; statement by email, 8 November 2013). Programme- maker also corroborated the programme's audience reach by saying: `Enda Kenny mentioned that the Palace had watched the broadcast in an interview on the Late Late Show, on the Friday after the visitors departed' (email, 31 October 2011). Further public engagement with Loughlin's research for the broadcast was enabled by the programme being available to a worldwide audience on the RTÉ player after Ireland's premier broadcaster granted it `access all areas' status (email statement, 9 November 2013).

The Producer reported reach beyond the general audience, stating: `Among those who also commented positively on it were Dr Kevin Cahill, who is Chief Advisor for Humanitarian Affairs of the President of the UN General Assembly, Director of the Institute of International Humanitarian Affairs at Fordham University and President of the Irish American Historical Society. Another very positive reaction came from Gerry Murphy, the New York based director of Enterprise Ireland' (email 31 October 2011).

Sources to corroborate the impact

Impact on the Programme Maker

Corroborative sources from the Programme-Maker

  1. Email from the Executive Producer, `The Queen and Us' & Northern Editor, RTE, dated 13 May 2011 (ID 1);
  2. Email from the Executive Producer, `The Queen and Us' & Northern Editor, RTE, dated 31 October 2011 (ID 1);
  3. Emailed statement from the Executive Producer, `The Queen and Us' & Northern Editor, RTE, dated 9 November 2013 (ID 1).

Corroboration of Interview Appearance

DVD of the programme, `The Queen and Us', showing Loughlin's interview and tag (ID 2).

Reach to the Programme

  1. The Queen and Us is mentioned as a highlight of factual programming in RTÉ's Annual Report, 2011, p.11, at:
  2. The programme also was specially listed in press coverage of the Queen's visit: of-weeks-historic-events-26735789.html

Reach to the General Public

  1. Newspaper references include: Belfast Telegraph, 16 May 2011; Irish Independent, 16 May 2011
  2. Public web-page references include:'s_visit_to_the_Republic_of_Ireland