This week saw royal watchers, historians and the Irish diaspora closely watch the first state visit by a British monarch to the Republic of Ireland. Queen Elizabeth II arrived in Dublin on Tuesday to mark warming relations between Great Britain and Ireland after centuries of animosity. For years, there was talk of the Queen making such a visit and it finally materialized.
But not everyone was celebrating. Protests and even a bomb threat occurred throughout the visit as plenty of Irish voiced their disdain over a British head of state setting foot in their country. Security in Dublin was unprecedentedly high and there were dozens of arrests. All this showcased that despite closer ties, Ireland and the UK still have healing to do.
Even so, Queen Elizabeth was welcomed by those who didn’t mind having the British monarch on Irish soil. One of the first things she did was lay a wreath at the Garden of Remembrance with Irish President Mary McAleese, who is credited with making this state visit possible.
“I think it is an extraordinary moment in Irish history, a phenomenal sign and signal of the success of the peace process and absolutely the right moment for us to welcome (the queen) onto Irish soil,” McAleese told RTE television.
The Garden of Remembrance commemorates those who fought for Irish freedom and having the Queen laying a wreath there was a sensitive moment.
She said nothing and didn’t show any emotion when a band played the British and Irish national anthems at the Garden.
Later on, she and husband Prince Philip visited Trinity College, where they met with several students taking a break from finals. The couple also received a tour of the College and saw the Book of Kells, a 9th century Biblical manuscript.
Wednesday saw more visits to sensitive but poignant spots. The Queen was shown around Croke Park Stadium, where in 1920, British forces shot dead 14 people.
Later in the evening, during the state dinner, Queen Elizabeth II addressed the pain many Irish feel about British treatment over the decades. Dressed in a white gown with shamrocks sewn on and a golden harp sewn on her left shoulder, she opened her speech in Irish Gaelic: “A hUachtarain agus a chairde” – which means President and friends.
“Together we have much to celebrate: the ties between our people, the shared values, and the economic, business and cultural links that make us so much more than just neighbours, that make us firm friends and equal partners.
“Madam President, speaking here in Dublin Castle it is impossible to ignore the weight of history, as it was yesterday when you and I laid wreaths at the Garden of Remembrance.
“Indeed, so much of this visit reminds us of the complexity of our history, its many layers and traditions, but also the importance of forbearance and conciliation. Of being able to bow to the past, but not be bound by it.”
The Queen went on to mention Northern Ireland and the peace relations since 1998.
“What were once only hopes for the future have now come to pass; it is almost exactly 13 years since the overwhelming majority of people in Ireland and Northern Ireland voted in favour of the agreement signed on Good Friday 1998, paving the way for Northern Ireland to become the exciting and inspirational place that it is today.
“I applaud the work of all those involved in the peace process, and of all those who support and nurture peace, including members of the police, the gardai, and the other emergency services, and those who work in the communities, the churches and charitable bodies like Co-operation Ireland.”
She then talked about the close ties between the two countries, more than the political links as she closed her speech.
“There are other stories written daily across these islands which do not find their voice in solemn pages of history books, or newspaper headlines, but which are at the heart of our shared narrative. Many British families have members who live in this country, as many Irish families have close relatives in the United Kingdom.
“These families share the two islands; they have visited each other and have come home to each other over the years. They are the ordinary people who yearned for the peace and understanding we now have between our two nations and between the communities within those two nations; a living testament to how much in common we have.”
“These ties of family, friendship and affection are our most precious resource. They are the lifeblood of the partnership across these islands, a golden thread that runs through all our joint successes so far, and all we will go on to achieve.
“They are a reminder that we have much to do together to build a future for all our grandchildren: the kind of future our grandparents could only dream of.
“So we celebrate together the widespread spirit of goodwill and deep mutual understanding that has served to make the relationship more harmonious, close as good neighbours should always be.”
During the speech, President McAleese mouthed the word, “wow” several times. The Queen’s speech was praised by many prominent Irish, such as Peter Sheridan, chief executive of the peace-building charity Co-Operation Ireland. “Somehow when you focus on the future that the Queen and the President pointed to, the dark, horrible past takes on a new perspective.”
Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams, who runs the most vocal party in Northern Ireland for independence from Britain, had this to say.
“Queen Elizabeth’s acknowledgment that the relationship between Britain and Ireland has not been entirely benign is a gross understatement. This will be forgiven if the future policy of her government is about building an entirely new future based on genuine equality, and mutual respect.”
The next day, the Queen’s final day of her state visit, saw her in Tully where she visited Ireland’s Horse Valley. There, the Queen and Prince Philip saw up close the best of Irish horses.
In the evening, Her Majesty relaxed a little at the Dublin Convention Center for some music, fashion and theatre. She saw a fashion show, traditional Irish dancing, and some performers by Westlife, the Chieftains and Mary Bryne. When the Queen walked out on stage, she received a standing ovation by the 2,000 guests in the audience.
With her Irish visit done, many could say this was one of the 85 year old monarch’s most poignant engagements ever – and she pulled it off. By speaking Irish, showing sensitivity to the past and hope for the future, Queen Elizabeth II likely built a bridge between Ireland and Great Britain. Hopefully, nothing will destroy what she did this week.
Sources: AFP, Irish Times, Telegraph, RTE