During the fall of 1975, America was in need of a major “lift-us-up.” Richard Nixon had resigned 13 months earlier and Saigon had fallen that spring. People were angry, frustrated, and the country was split right down the middle, but luckily our history came to save us. It was our bicentennial year.

Britain’s Prince Philip and his wife Queen Elizabeth II arrive at Royal Ascot race meeting, England in 1962. Associated Press

With my U.S. history background, I had eagerly joined the William Goodrich Company, a colonial re-enactment militia unit in York. We visited schools, marched in parades, learned the colonial manual of arms and were preparing that fall for our participation in the 1975 Arnold Re-enactment March to Quebec. We soon learned that Queen Elizabeth II was scheduled for a royal visit to Boston, that old colonial hotbed, and that New England’s re-enactor militias would be her honor guard.

Numerous letters warned that bayonets, swords, tomahawks, knives, musket flints, and black powder had to be left at home. Given the Irish composition of Boston, it was clear there’d be tight security when we welcomed the Queen.

Every fully-garbed militiaperson (there were some women in the units) went through a security checkpoint manned by a joint British/American security force. Remember, this was a time when Northern Ireland was suffering IRA terrorist bombings.

The militia Honor Guard was lined up in parallel lines, facing each other, probably 8 to 10 feet apart. Then we did what all military units have always done, we stood around and shot the bull, but there’s always one jokester in the crowd.

British and American plain-clothes security personnel stood behind us, spaced 5 to 6 feet apart. While we waited, comments were made about the tight security. A good friend across the way, looking directly at me, yelled “This is foolish, all they need to do is search out and remove the ones with Irish names! Isn’t that right, Murphy?” Every face in our company turned toward me.

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Immediately, two pairs of hands seized my elbows from behind. You could hear the laughing in the ranks. A British-accented voice in my ear, ordered me to stand-at-attention, eyes forward, and “don’t you dare move!” I hadn’t heard a command like that since Marine Corps boot camp 15 years earlier.

We all could sense movement and cheers coming up the line. Both security agents took hold of my belt from behind, telling me I’d be on the pavement in a flash, if I even twitched. Incapacitated, I saw a blur go by, but to this day, I can’t tell you if her hair was gray, whether Prince Phillip was his usual three paces behind her, if she was carrying her hallmark handbag, or doing her “ta, ta” wave.

I was there, but I really wasn’t.

Decades later, I undertook serious genealogical research, discovering there was actually baggage in my family tree. In 1798 County Wexford, a little less than two miles from our family homes, a band of local farmers fought off and routed a cavalry squad of Protestant Yeomen (sound familiar?), now honored in history as “Ireland’s Lexington and Concord.” That 1798 rebellion led to over 100,000 military and civilian deaths before it was over.

A leading County Wexford historian, researcher, and friend told us he believed my Murphys were descended from the extended family of Father John Murphy, the local parish priest, who became the rebellion’s leading general. Later, captured by the British, he was tortured, dismembered, stuffed into a barrel, and lit on fire.

Father Murphy’s remains and ashes were returned to County Wexford. One hundred yards from his grave, rest my great, great, great-grandfather, John Gahan and his eldest son, who both died in the Great Irish Famine.

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My Murphy grandfather, who grew up during the 1880s, was surrounded by County Wexford uncles who had left Ireland, coming to the aid of his widowed mother. It left him with a strong anti-British mindset, which his grandchildren perceived, but didn’t understand until we began to research our family’s history in Ireland.

Over the decades, as both the Queen and I aged, I’ve followed her in the news, pleased to see this constitutional monarch calmly moving her country forward and unifying her people. Her support for the Northern Ireland Peace Talks, led by our George Mitchell from Maine, led to the signing of the “Accords” and finally the end of “The Troubles” in Northern Ireland.

My ever-growing admiration for her leadership increased, when later celebrating the signing, she shook the hand of the Northern Ireland IRA leader who had ordered the assassination of her beloved uncle, Lord Mountbatten, and his family. That was a selfless and courageous deed, putting the terror-torn people of both religions in the North ahead of her own personal loss and grief.

In recent weeks, Shirley and I watched the Queen’s farewell and through all the royal pomp, we could see both the pride in her 70-year reign and the deep grief her people were experiencing. We need more leaders like her.

Forty-seven years after that autumn day in Boston, Queen Elizabeth II has given me even more pride in my family’s roots in the British Isles — the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland, and Scotland.

Ma’am, I wish I could have really seen you that 1975 afternoon. I know it’s late, but I can assure you that you had nothing to fear from this Irish-American. God bless you on your way.

Tom Murphy is a former history teacher and state representative. He is a Kennebunk Landing resident and can be reached at [email protected]

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