A British monarch had not visited the Republic of Ireland for exactly 100 years and during her reign, Queen Elizabeth II has made 95 state visits, but never to her closest neighbour. Nerves were on edge as a bomb was diffused on a Dublin-bound bus on the Queen’s first day in the country. But while her Majesty has been followed around Dublin by protestors, she has also been attended by much praise.
The Queen arrived on Tuesday wearing a suit of Ireland’s bright emerald green. On Wednesday, she laid wreaths at the Irish War Memorial Garden and visited Croke Park stadium, where 14 people were killed by British forces during a Gaelic football match 91 years ago. Later that day (wearing a dress decorated with 2,091 hand-sewn shamrocks and a Swarovski-embellished Irish harp) the Queen began her speech at the state dinner at Dublin Castle by speaking in Gaelic: “A hUachtarain agus a chaired,” she said — “President and friends”. Her Majesty went on to express regret for what had happened in the past and extended her sympathy to all who had suffered: “With the benefit of historical hindsight we can all see things which we would wish had been done differently or not done at all,” she said. According to RTE, on Thursday night 2,000 specially invited guests gave Queen Elizabeth II a five minute standing ovation at a special concert in Dublin to mark her visit. Here, the editorial pages stand and applaud.
- The Queen and the Duke deserve “our heartfelt thanks.” Former Prime Minister John Major took to the editorial pages of The Times to praise the the Queen’s visit; it “has lifted an old and dark shadow, cemented a modern relationship and prepared the ground for a fertile future.” Major pointed out that we have spent so much time highlighting the differences between England and Ireland that we have forgotten about “the numerous areas of common interest and common endeavour.” The Queen’s programme was “risky”, but it was skilfully designed to “recognise important and painful elements in our shared history.” It’s a history that cannot be forgotten, but it can be put aside. “It still stirs ancient emotions but the British and Irish relationship is now strong enough to handle them.”
- The “astonishing” warmth. Sarah Carey, a presenter for Newstalk Radio in Dublin, described in the Telegraph how the Irish held their breath nervously as the Queen’s visit approached. But, “From the moment the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh arrived, and she appeared in green, the tension broke. We have been charmed and moved, surprised and impressed.” It certainly helped, said Carey, that the head of state is Mary McAleese, a Catholic nationalist from Belfast whose family were burned out of their home by loyalists. “Only someone with these credentials could warmly welcome a Queen of the United Kingdom free from suspicion of royalist sympathies.” But all other credit for the success of the visit must go to the royal couple. The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh have “overwhelmed us with their professionalism, good cheer and stamina. … This is what we didn’t expect – to be so charmed by their humanity, rather than simply impressed with the symbolism.” That warmth is all the more “astonishing” considering that the Troubles marked the Royal family directly, when the IRA killed Lord Mountbatten and other members of his family in 1979. “Our tormented history is a deeply personal one for this couple.” But, proclaimed Carey, “we are finally free – free to be friends. As for the Queen, she has new fans and is welcome back any time.”
- “To reconcile, you must acknowledge the pain of all.” In the Independent, BBC correspondent Fergal Keane said that the Royals had emphasized the greatest principles of peacemaking during their trip. “When Queen and President bowed their heads at the Garden of Remembrance, and stood in silence at the war memorial in Islandbridge, they showed humility and generosity that history might have suggested was impossible.” The visit should remind us to salute all the peacemakers, including those like Gerry Adams, Martin McGuinness and the late David Irvine, “who made the journey from being men of war to men of peace.” There are those who will continue to kill in the name of Ireland, said Keane. “But by standing together, and by speaking with such humility, Queen and President expressed the hope of an overwhelming majority of the people of these islands. No gun or bomb can change that now.”
- However, letters written to the Irish Times highlighted a more nuanced response to the visit. Declan Gibney of Wexford wrote that it was ”a pity” that Gerry Adams had not turned up. Gibney added, “I welcome the day that Sinn Féin can visit Bradford, Birmingham, Omagh and the many other scenes of carnage and heartbreak to show that they are sorry and to help people move on – I won’t hold my breath.” Meanwhile Anne McCluskey of Dublin sighed that while it is agreeable to let bygones be bygones in a civilised manner, “one can’t help feeling perturbed at the extravagance of the gesture … One finds it tiresome to share one’s footsoldiers and one is most inconvenienced by not having access to places of industry and leisure.”
- That rascal Duke of Edinburgh. The trip was not all ceremony and memorial. The Times reported that the Queen was very happy to visit the Irish National Stud, where she met jockeys and farriers, trainers and owners. True to form, the Duke of Edinburgh, when he was introduced to Sophie Ralston, 18, a trainee apprentice jockey who was cantering on a racehorse simulator, asked, “with a grin that can only be described as mischievous”: “Can you vary the pace?”