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Friday 31 March 2023 Dublin: 9°C
Alamy Stock Photo Queen Elizabeth II meeting fishmonger Pat O'Connell at The English Market in Cork City in 2011.
# Matters of State
The Queen and Us: An historic visit and the complicated relationship between Britain and Ireland
Ireland is more exposed to the Britain’s relationship with its monarchy than any other nation.

THE DEATH OF Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II is a truly global event and news story.

For many around the world it will mean a time of mourning and loss and for others it will mean very little or nothing at all. 

Both of these feelings are valid and rational so long as they don’t excessively intrude upon one another. 

This, however, is 2022 and such balance is impossible to achieve. Instead, opinions from all angles will be impossible to avoid.  

Ireland struggles to reconcile with Queen Elizabeth’s impact perhaps more than any other non-commonwealth nation. 

Australia, for example, may debate the queen’s status as head of state and therefore acknowledge her role in public life one way or the other. 

But Ireland faces the difficulty of being more exposed to Britain’s relationship with its monarchy than any other nation, while at the same time attempting to remain detached. 

For many people in Ireland, they admire the queen for the same reasons that many in Britain also do, namely her staunch commitment to her role for almost a century. 

This admiration was particularly clear during her visit to Ireland over ten years ago. Indeed, one of the overwhelming responses from people here was simple admiration for the stamina of a woman who was then aged 85

Queen Elizabeth’s four-day visit here in May 2011 was a huge moment that served in many ways as the template for the Decade of Commemorations that followed. 

During the visit, she laid wreaths for Irish volunteers who fought for Irish freedom as well as for Irish men who fought for the British Army during the First World War. 

In the years that followed, the laying of wreaths became almost commonplace and the fact that the queen had lanced that boil during her visit undoubtedly made a difficult period of remembrance that much easier. 

The visit here was the first ever by a reigning British monarch to the Republic of Ireland and it also capped President Mary McAleese’s 14 years as our head of state. 

During her speech at the State dinner in Dublin Castle, Queen Elizabeth spoke in glowing terms about McAleese and referenced how the pair had jointly opened a WW1 peace park in Belgium 13 years previously. It pointed to the long road walked before the visit could take place.

The State visit, however, also demonstrated that her ceremonial role has limits to what it can achieve in a country she does not preside over. 

While the visit was a success in how it continued the normalisation of the relationship between the two near neighbours, it did not heal wounds in a lasting way that some had predicted. 

Anyone who says following her death that the 2011 visit was a moment of lasting reconciliation is not acknowledging the reality of British-Irish relations over the past six years.   

On that evening in Dublin Castle, the monarch praised the “spirit of partnership” that existed between the governments’ of Ireland and the UK.

It is not unfair to say that this “spirit of partnership” has been torn asunder by Brexit and the relegation of Irish concerns as part of that process. 

The ongoing hurt expressed by families seeking answers to British actions in Northern Ireland demonstrates that answers rather than words are what is being sought

Much of the debate in the run up to Queen Elizabeth’s visit had focused on whether she would offer an apology for the actions of soldiers who acted in her name. 

There was no such apology but rather an expression that “we can all see things which we would wish had been done differently or not at all.”

But hoping for an apology or indeed lasting healing to come through the visit of a figurehead is perhaps too much of an expectation.

Political matters and government decisions have a much more fundamental effect on shaping opinion and healing for victims

sabina-coyne-president-of-ireland-michael-d-higgins-queen-elizabeth-ii-and-the-duke-of-edinburgh-attend-a-state-banquet-at-windsor-castle-during-the-first-state-visit-to-the-uk-by-an-irish-presiden Alamy Stock Photo Sabina Coyne, President Michael D. Higgins, Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh. Alamy Stock Photo

Nonetheless, the queen’s commitment to Ireland continued after the 2011 visit, with the return trip by McAleese’s successor President Michael D Higgins taking place three years later

On that occasion, Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness met with the monarch and attended a banquet in Windsor. Three years earlier, Sinn Féin had objected to the queen’s visit to Ireland and did not take part in the events surrounding it

All these events demonstrate that Queen Elizabeth did play a role in how Ireland and the UK have attempted to move on from the past and towards the future.

This may also prove to be the case in her death. 

During that State dinner, Queen Elizabeth spoke about “the benefit of historical hindsight” and how it allows people to come to regret how events may have transpired.

Now, in the coming days and weeks following her death, it may offer us a chance to reflect and regret that the relationship between the two islands has worsened rather than improved since that visit.

Allowing people the space to either grieve or ignore it completely may be a good place to start.

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