Go to the Globe and Mail homepage

Jump to main navigationJump to main content

Queen's visit to Ireland a sign of generational shift Add to ...

A generation ago, it would have been an almost unthinkably dangerous provocation. The Queen of Britain stepped off an airplane in Dublin and began the first state visit since Ireland first declared independence in 1916, dressed in symbolically loaded green.

But the world has changed. To the great majority of Irish citizens and leaders, their British neighbours are no longer seen as a former colonial master and the source of centuries of misery, but rather as a fellow European Union country, a partner united in recent economic humility.

More related to this story

After a century of independence struggles and violence in the island's north, which remains a British province, the visit marks the final step in a generation-long normalization of Anglo-Irish relations.

That was deeply apparent as Queen Elizabeth drove to the former seat of Britain's colonial government in Dublin - and the site of violent uprisings against the colonial regime of her grandfather, George V - and met and shook hands with Mary McAleese, the Irish President: There was no bowing or curtsying, as there was during the last such visit a century ago, since they are now equal heads of state.

Even though Queen Elizabeth will be surrounded by a phalanx of 8,000 police as she makes her way around the island this week, and even though her arrival on Tuesday morning was preceded by bomb threats in Dublin and London and protests from the nationalist Sinn Fein party, there is a sense of welcome indifference on the streets of Dublin.

"Most Irish people are very relaxed about the visit," said Sean Duffy, a historian at Trinity College in Dublin. "We are looking forward to a day when we can be bored by the arrival of the Queen of Britain in Ireland."

Ireland is not quite there yet. Earlier this week, a Dublin property developer tried to welcome the Queen by hanging an enormous photo of her on the outer wall of one of his downtown hotels, provoking shock among some. Security officials made him remove it.

The visit, however, puts a punctuation mark on the Northern Ireland peace process that began with the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 and has resulted since in a power-sharing government that unites Republicans and Unionists in a semi-independent Belfast legislature.

Indeed, the Queen will be dining Tuesday with two of the key figures in the achievement of Northern Irish peace, the politicians David Trimble and John Hume, the authors of the Good Friday Agreement. It is only since this peace was reached under Britain's Labour government that it could have been possible for a British Queen to visit Ireland as an equal head of state.

"We need to be equal partners on this archipelago, and that's what's being resolved in the next few days," said Dr. Duffy.

Follow on Twitter: @dougsaunders

 

In the know

Most popular video »

Highlights

More from The Globe and Mail

Most Popular Stories