There is something special in seeing the Court Circular in today’s British papers being dated “FARMLEIGH, DUBLIN, IRELAND”, reflecting that Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, accompanied by the Duke of Edinburgh, yesterday began a four-day state visit to Ireland.
No British monarch has set foot in Ireland since King George V came there in 1911, at the beginning of his reign. During the long and violent struggle for Irish independence the Crown became a symbol of British oppression and it was therefore a symbolically strong moment when the Queen of Britain yesterday laid a wreath at the Memorial Garden in Dublin and bowed her head in respect for the fallen. Although there have been protests and demonstrations against the state visit, opinion polls indicate that it is welcomed by some 4/5 of the Irish.
President Mary McAleese has supposedly been very keen on hosting this symbolically important visit before her second and last seven-year term expires this autumn. For Elizabeth II, who has undertaken more than 300 foreign visits during her 59 years on the British throne, it is of course also significant that she has at last been able to visit Britain’s closest neighbour towards the end of her reign.