The Queen makes historic visit to Ireland

The two countries are close neighbours and trading partners. Yet no British monarch has visited Ireland for 100 years. Behind the cheerful welcome is a history of violence and hate.

Yesterday marked the beginning of a historic four-day visit by the Queen to Ireland; the first by a British monarch since George V in 1911.

It also marked the beginning of a £30 million security operation, including land, air and sea patrols.

More than 8,000 gardai (Irish police) and 2,000 soldiers will patrol the route as the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh conduct their visit. And vehicles have been banned from parking in more than 40 Dublin city centre streets to prevent the threat of car bombs.

But why have 100 years elapsed since the last royal visit? And why the need for such security? After all, the two countries are close neighbours with a shared language and many cultural links.

Ireland is also the UK's fifth biggest trading partner, receiving around seven percent of British exports – more than exports to the huge economies of Brazil, Russia, China and India combined.

The answer to both questions can be found in one word: history. Six hundred years of savage intervention by the British in Irish politics culminated in the violent Irish republican movement of the 20th century.

Both sides point to atrocities committed by the other. But perhaps the events of Bloody Sunday, November 21st 1920, best sum up the hostility and violence that characterised this relationship.

In the morning the Irish Republican Army (IRA) killed 14 British informers. That afternoon, in retaliation, British forces opened fire at the Gaelic football match in Croke Park killing 14 civilians. That evening, three IRA prisoners in Dublin Castle were beaten to death. The reason given was that 'they were trying to escape.'

So while many Irish people welcome the Queen, some see her as the ultimate symbol of British war crimes in Ireland.

The only present
Should history dominate our present in this way?

It's clear that both the Queen and Irish President Mary McAleese see this as a visit of reconciliation, pointing to the future rather than the past.

It is significant, for instance, that Croke Park, the scene of the 1920 massacre, is included in the Queen's visit.

For many Irish young people, such events are ancient history and without relevance today. What matters is repairing their battered economy and producing new jobs and prosperity.

For others, history is the only present they know. The past has shaped their identity, made them who they are. So to give up their history would be to risk losing a sense of themselves.

You Decide

  1. 'Sometimes, to move on, you just have to forget the history.' Do you agree?
  2. The security cost of this royal visit is £30 million. Do you think it's worth it?


  1. Design a banner expressing your feelings about Ireland – the Queen's visit, the future, the ghosts of the past.
  2. Become acquainted with one significant event in the troubled history of British/Irish relationships. Drogheda? The Irish Famine? The Easter Uprising? Bloody Sunday? Omagh bombing? Write about it as an eye witness.

Some People Say...

“The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.' L.P. Hartley (1895-1972)”

What do you think?

Q & A

So this really is a historic visit?
It is, yes. Just when Scotland's politicians are moving away from the Crown, the Irish appear to be moving towards reconciliation with Britain and the Crown that embodies it.
Do all republicans oppose the visit?
No. Gerry Adams, a former IRA man and now leader of the Republican Sinn Fein party, says the royal tour could provide 'a unique opportunity' for mutual respect and equality.
Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, is with the Queen?
Yes, and in 1979 the IRA assassinated Earl Mounbatten who was his uncle, so who knows what he's feeling?
But perhaps this is a new start?
Maybe, but Irish journalist Fintan O'Toole is wary. 'In Ireland,' he says, ' there are certain people who don't know what it means to be Irish except that they are anti-English.' Some ghosts take a long time to die.


PDF Download

Please click on "Print view" at the top of the page to see a print friendly version of the article.