DUBLIN, Ireland — Preparations are under way for a historic state visit to the Republic of Ireland by Queen Elizabeth ll next year.
The 84-year-old head of the House of Windsor will be the first British monarch to grace the neighboring island nation since it gained independence from Britain in 1921.
Confirmation that the event, long discussed between London and Dublin, will take place next year has come from Ireland’s prime minister, Brian Cowen. It is time for “normal courtesies” to be observed between friendly states, explained Cowen, after discussions with his British counterpart David Cameron in London on June 23.
Queen Elizabeth’s visit will mark a normalization of relations between the two countries after a century of strife and discord. The last British monarch to come to this part of the Emerald Isle was King George V, who arrived as part of his coronation celebrations in 1911.
A decade later the War of Independence forced the departure of British Crown forces. The bitterness of that conflict, plus the forced partition of the island, Ireland’s neutrality during World War II and the use of the British army in the Troubles in Northern Ireland, strained relations for most of the 20th century.
The success of the peace process in Northern Ireland and the recent apology by Cameron for the 1972 Bloody Sunday killings in Derry have removed remaining obstacles to good relations. Indeed members of the Irish parliament from the majority government party, Fianna Fail, whose predecessors fought for Ireland’s freedom, are competing to have Her Majesty come to their constituencies.
They are anxious to exploit the tourism potential, however, rather than to tug the forelock as the loyal Irish once did. After all, Queen Victoria put the Lakes of Killarney on the world vacation map when she stayed there briefly in 1861.
Not everyone in Ireland will be so welcoming of course. Sinn Fein member of parliament Caoimhghin O Caolain said his party opposed a visit by the “commander-in-chief of the British armed forces” because of the continuing British military presence in Northern Ireland.
For her part Queen Elizabeth has memories of the assassination by the IRA of her uncle by marriage, Louis Mountbatten, when he was vacationing in Ireland in 1979.
Sinn Fein has only four out of 166 seats in the Irish parliament and any protest it stages is not likely to attract much support in the present climate of reconciliation. Ireland’s elected president, Mary McAleese, a Northern Ireland nationalist, has already met the queen both in Buckingham Palace and in Northern Ireland. They get along exceptionally well and a state visit by McAleese to Britain is planned as a follow-up, which will be another historic first.
The coming royal visit has provoked a lively debate in the letters pages of Irish newspapers, with most contributors favoring the idea. One commented laconically, referring to the abysmal state of Ireland’s economy, that it could be seen as the head of a dysfunctional family visiting the head of a dysfunctional state.
Mary Kenny, author of a forthcoming book, "Crown and Shamrock: Love and Hate between Ireland and the British Monarchy," argued in The Irish Times that Queen Elizabeth II, in her long reign since 1952, had yet to be welcomed by the closest island nation.
“Until that is altered, we can never say that Anglo-Irish relations have achieved normality.”
In a response, Charles Lysaght, author and founder member of the British Irish Association, expressed his apprehension that manifestations of enthusiasm in Ireland for British royalty would be seen as threatening to Irish nationalists, and had a potential “to open up old divisions in our society dating back to days when people were defined by whether they were loyal to the British Crown or to Ireland.”
There was in fact once considerable popular ardor in Ireland for Britain’s royal family, notably in pre-famine times. After King George IV embarked at Dunleary south of Dublin in 1821, the port was renamed Kingstown in his honor. The Dublin Almanac predicted then that “in the lapse of time the original name will be entirely forgotten.”
After independence the name was not only restored but was expressed in its Gaelic form, Dun Laoghaire. If Queen Elizabeth deigns to pass through Dun Laoghaire next year, she will be given a cordial reception, but you can bet that this time no one will suggest changing the name to Queenstown.