Queen wraps up 'successful' Irish visit

2011-05-20 10:00

Dublin - Britain's Queen Elizabeth II was on Friday wrapping up her landmark four-day state visit to Ireland, which analysts said had exceeded expectations and put Anglo-Irish relations on a revitalised footing.

The sovereign was to visit a medieval fortress and the second city of Cork before returning home after her ground-breaking trip, the first by a British monarch since Ireland won its independence in 1922.

The visit addressed thorny issues head on, with the queen laying a wreath in remembrance of those who died fighting for Irish freedom from the British crown.

She visited Croke Park stadium, the site of the 1920 "Bloody Sunday" massacre perpetrated by British forces which left a deep scar in Irish consciousness.

Her Majesty also paid tribute to the Irish World War I dead who were virtually ignored by their fellow countrymen due to deep unease about them serving in British uniform while the independence struggle raged.

But it was her keynote speech, in which she said it was "impossible to ignore the weight of history", that went a long way towards finally healing centuries-old wounds.

Unexpectedly significant

The 85-year-old voiced her "deep sympathy" to all those who had suffered "as a consequence of our troubled past", saying the legacy of "heartache, turbulence and loss" was "sad and regrettable".

Doctor Patrick Geoghegan, a senior history lecturer at Dublin's Trinity College, said he had not expected the visit to be as significant as it turned out to be.

"It was really only when watching the speeches in Dublin Castle that it really brought home to me how historic and just how important an event the visit has been," he said.

That the Republic of Ireland had never before had a state visit from across its only border now seems "hard to believe".

"The fact that we have now done that means both countries can move with confidence so I think it has been an extraordinarily successful visit.

"Even people who were cynical at the start of the week were moved and touched by the visit by the end of the week," Geoghegan said.

Impact of small gestures

Doctor Michael Anderson, a research fellow at University College Dublin's Institute of British-Irish Studies, said people had been "astonished" by the "sincerity and dignity" shown by the queen in her sensitive engagements.

He concurred with Geoghegan that the British monarch beginning her speech in Irish - which had a stunned President Mary McAleese repeatedly mouthing "wow" - held "incredible significance" and symbolised the big impact of small gestures.

Anderson said the queen had "gently reminded" people that she too had lost family in the Anglo-Irish Troubles.

Her husband Prince Philip's uncle Louis Mountbatten - credited with pairing the two of them together - was murdered by IRA paramilitaries in 1979.

"She could speak genuinely as someone who had felt the pain and suffering as a victim of the Troubles. That would have rung a bell with a lot of people who would have thought, 'yes, she is the genuine article'," Anderson said.

It had been "more than a simple photo opportunity visit", he added.

"This was a genuine reconciliation of something that went on for 800 to 900 years."

Threats from dissident republicans opposed to the peace process in British-ruled Northern Ireland failed to derail the visit.

Genuine reaching out

Ireland's agriculture minister Simon Coveney said most cynics had been won over by the first visit from a British monarch in 100 years.

"As the week goes on, Irish people, many of whom were unsure about this visit as to whether it was the right time, are realising this is the right time," he told reporters.

"This is a very genuine reaching out from the British side as well to Irish people from all walks of life and the queen's speech was testament to that."

Referring to the country's economic collapse, he said: "Ireland hasn't had a whole lot to be positive about over the last two and a half years and this week is a really positive good news story."

The Economist weekly magazine said the visit marked "a formal acknowledgment of a detoxified relationship that has started to flourish, helping set the ghosts of history to rest".

Britain's "helpfulness" in tackling Ireland's debt problem "contrasted favourably" with the eurozone's pushy approach.

"The caricature (which was never quite accurate) of the Irish as Europe-loving Brit-haters needs updating," it said.