Queen's Irish visit a step to reconciliation

Queen Elizabeth's visit to Ireland comes 100 years after the previous visit by a British monarch and is seen as a step toward reconciliation and normalization of Anglo-Irish relations.

Elizabeth to lay wreath at memorial for Irish independence fighters

Queen Elizabeth's four-day state visit to Ireland begins May 17, the first by a British monarch in 100 years. Ahead of the visit, protesters against the visit rally in Dublin, May 15. (Cathal McNaughton/Reuters)

Queen Elizabeth's visit to Ireland comes 100 years after the previous visit by a British monarch and is seen as a step toward reconciliation and normalization of Anglo-Irish relations.

On July 7, 1911, two weeks after his coronation, Queen Elizabeth's grandfather, George V, arrived in Ireland. John Gore, in his official biography, writes that for King George and Queen Mary, "Everywhere their reception was warm, even enthusiastic."

Diplomat, politician and biographer Harold Nicolson described the 1911 visit as "a triumphant success." In his 1952 biography, Nicolson wrote that George V "always cherished the theory (perhaps the illusion) that there existed between the Irish people and the Crown a bond of understanding independent of politics and parties."

George V is portrayed in his 1911 coronation robes by Samuel Luke Fildes. The king visited Ireland two weeks after his coronation. ((The royal collection))

Nicolson then claimed that "the King, after so rapturous a welcome, could not have conceived it possible that he would never visit Dublin again."

In fact, a century would pass before a British monarch visited Ireland. Just five years after the King's visit, the Easter rising rocked Dublin. At the time Ireland was still part of the United Kingdom and the uprising's goal was Irish independence.

Queen to visit landmarks of Irish independence

One of the Irish republican leaders was Roger Casement. He was arrested two days before the uprising and executed four months later by the British. The Queen begins her visit to Ireland at the Casement Aerodrome, named for the independence leader.

One of the reasons for the royal visit is Anglo-Irish reconciliation, and among the first events will be the Queen laying a wreath at the Garden of Remembrance in Dublin's Parnell Square. The garden is dedicated to those who fought and died for Irish independence.

Two days later she is scheduled to visit Croke Park. During a Gaelic football match there in 1920, British troops opened fire on the crowd, killing 14, a reprisal for the assassination of undercover agents by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) earlier that day.

Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams says that for Anglo-Irish relations, much will depend on what the Queen says during her visit. ((Peter Morrison/Associated Press))

Even before the Queen arrives, opponents of her visit have taken to the streets. More protests are expected, but polls suggest that most people in Ireland support the visit. An unprededented security operation is underway, however, including the arrests of dissidents.

Although Gerry Adams, president of Sinn Fein, the political ally of the IRA, said his party opposes the royal visit, he also said they support the normalization of Anglo-Irish relations. Speaking on Saturday, Adams said that "much will depend on what the British monarch says."

Britain partitions Ireland

A month after the Croke Park shooting in 1920, the British government granted limited independence to most of Ireland but at the same time introduced partition. The six predominantly Protestant counties in the north would remain part of the U.K.

Arguably it is because of that partition that the Queen has visited 129 other countries but is only now visiting Britain's closest neighbour.

Partition would lead to civil war in Ireland in 1922, and full independence for the country would wait until 1948.

In 1968, civil rights protests began in Northern Ireland, many of them ruthlessly broken up by security forces. A year later, British troops were sent in. Hundreds of republicans were arrested and interned but protests continued. At one protest in 1972, known as Bloody Sunday, British troops opened fire, killing 14 demonstrators and wounding 13 more.

That led to increasing support for IRA violence. Britain responded by suspending the Northern Irish government and introducing direct rule from London.

In 1985, the U.K. government granted Dublin some minor involvement in Northern Ireland affairs. In 1993 the U.K., in the Downing Street Declaration, stated that the people of Northern Ireland should decide their own future. That led to the IRA and Protestant loyalists declaring ceasefires the following year and then the start of peace talks in 1994.

By then three decades of political violence had claimed about 3,600 lives.

The Good Friday Agreement begins reconciliation

Finally the Good Friday Agreement was signed in 1998, ending the conflict and putting in place a process to gradually bring the North and South politically closer and give Northern Ireland its own government.

Thousands of people gather in Omagh on April 10 for a peace walk to mark the death of Northern Ireland police officer Ronan Kerr, who was killed in a car bomb explosion on April 2 in Omagh. ((Associated Press) )

The agreement has widespread public support in both parts of Ireland. But it is not unanimous. On April 2 an IRA splinter group used a bomb to kill a policeman in Omagh. It marked the end to two years without a political killing in Northern Ireland.

In his Saturday speech, Adams said the "Good Friday Agreement is the foundation upon which this new relationship, between unionists and nationalists and between Ireland and Britain, can be forged."

On Monday the government coalition of the Sinn Fein and Democratic Unionist parties named their cabinet ministers, continuing the process that the Good Friday agreement got underway.

Ireland's economic crisis in forefront

Queen Elizabeth visited Northern Ireland in 2010. Here she arrives at television studios in Belfast. ((Peter Morrison/Associated Press))
In Ireland, the economy continues to be the dominant issue. The high-flying Irish economy collapsed in the 2008 global financial crisis. During the European Union debates on the terms for bailing out Ireland, the U.K. government pushed for easier terms for Ireland, earning it some support in Ireland.

In February, Irish voters threw out the Fianna Fail party, which had headed the government for 20 years.

In a widely cited piece in the Irish Times  newspaper on May 7, economist Morgan Kelly wrote that "Ireland is facing economic ruin." Kelly added that he expects Ireland to be "kicked through the trapdoor into bankruptcy" by the EU.

Given the dire economic situation, some in Ireland may view the Queen's visit as a welcome distraction.