During a fraught period for Anglo-Irish relations, Queen Elizabeth has visited Ireland only once
Queen Elizabeth II made no secret of the fact the state visit she most wanted to undertake for almost six decades on the throne was to the Republic of Ireland.
As she marks 70 years as Britain’s monarch, her single visit to the Republic 11 years ago represents a landmark moment in oft-troubled Anglo-Irish relations.
It took place 100 years after her grandfather, King George V, paid the last royal visit to Ireland, in 1911.
The first public soundings of such a visit came in 1965 after impromptu remarks from the queen’s sister, Princess Margaret.
However, as Northern Ireland descended into sectarian strife, the chances of such a visit became remote.
In July 1976, the IRA assassinated the British ambassador to Ireland, Christopher Ewart-Biggs, with a landmine near his Dublin residence.
In August 1979, the IRA killed Earl Louis Mountbatten in Sligo with a bomb hidden on his fishing boat.
This had an enormous impact on the royal family. Mountbatten was not only a mentor to Prince Charles, he had been a father-figure to Prince Philip.
He had also been an early and staunch supporter of the courtship between the queen and his nephew in the 1940s.
By the time the hunger strikes erupted in Northern Ireland in 1981, Anglo-Irish relations were at a low not seen since the years after the War of Independence and the economic war of the 1930s.
Slowly, with first the Anglo-Irish Agreement (1985) and then the Good Friday Agreement (1998), Dublin and London built bridges and the fledgling peace process in the North took shape.
Yet even with warmer relations and peace north of the Border, there were those who doubted if a royal visit would ever go ahead.
In May 2011, the queen arrived in Ireland wearing green in a clear nod to local heritage, spoke Gaelic to then-president Mary McAleese and visited the Garden of Remembrance.
Her state visit – with stops in Dublin, Kildare, Tipperary and Cork – capped a remarkable rapprochement between Dublin and London.
Put in context, in her 70 years on the throne, such has been the fraught nature of Anglo-Irish relations that the queen has visited the Republic only once.
Over the same period, she has visited Northern Ireland nearly 30 times.
1940s: Despite rumours that Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret spent the early part of World War II safely hidden in Ireland, the royal family remained together in London throughout.
A young Elizabeth accompanied her father, King George VI, and her mother, Queen Elizabeth, on a royal visit to Northern Ireland in 1945.
The following year, Elizabeth was entrusted by her father to launch HMS Eagle, the largest aircraft carrier then ordered for the Royal Navy, at Harland & Wolff in Belfast. Three years later, she was back in the North again, this time accompanied by Prince Philip.
1950s: Only weeks after her coronation, Queen Elizabeth II made an official visit to Northern Ireland – hugely symbolic for Ulster unionists.
She was 27 and had been formally on the throne for just one month when she arrived in Belfast in July 1953. A public holiday was declared to mark the event.
1960s: The first royal visit of the decade to Northern Ireland came in 1961 when the queen was accompanied not only by Prince Philip but by her two children, Prince Charles and Princess Anne. It would prove the last such relatively relaxed visit.
In July 1966, a BBC report noted that “there were those who opposed the royal visit to Ulster at the present time when religious feelings run high”.
That same year – the 50th anniversary of the Easter Rising – a brick was dropped from a rooftop on to one of the royal entourage cars in Belfast, while in another incident a bottle was thrown at the royal procession.
1970s: As the IRA escalated its campaign and gained access to more sophisticated weaponry, royal visits to Northern Ireland became maximum-security events.
The highest profile visit came in 1977 when the queen visited to mark her Silver Jubilee. It required an operation involving 32,000 security personnel.
An explosive device was found in Coleraine shortly before the visit.
That decade also witnessed the assassinations of ambassador Ewart-Biggs and Earl Mountbatten.
1980s: The 1981 hunger strikes left relations between Dublin and London in the basement. There were numerous royal visits over the course of the decade to the North, including by the Queen Mother, Prince Charles, Prince Andrew and Princess Diana. But the period marked the longest gap – 14 years – between visits by the queen.
1990s: Elizabeth made a total of five visits to Northern Ireland during the 1990s, which were all one-day affairs. In 1991 and 1993 she hosted garden parties at Hillsborough, in 1995 she opened a new bridge over the Lagan and in 1997 she attended a cross-community event in Dungannon.
2000s: The improved security situation had resulted in a greater rate of royal visits to Northern Ireland.
The 2002 visit was to mark the queen’s Golden Jubilee and featured a three-day stay in the North – the longest for decades.
2010s: Elizabeth finally made her historic visit to the Republic on May 17, 2011.
The four-day trip featured multiple headline-making gestures ranging from the colour of the queen’s outfit to her offering a greeting in Irish to then-president McAleese.
However, most noteworthy was the bow she offered at the Garden of Remembrance for those who died in the cause of Irish independence.
An event at the National Conference Centre on May 19, her final night in Dublin, proved an emotional triumph, with the queen being accorded a standing ovation in front of 2,000 invited guests.
In 2012, she visited Northern Ireland and achieved another historic first when she shook hands with the then deputy first minister, Martin McGuinness – the first time a senior former IRA commander had exchanged a handshake with a British monarch since the Troubles erupted.
2020s: The Covid-19 pandemic, the death of her husband Prince Philip in April 2021 and her own health concerns have limited the queen’s visits during this decade. She had been scheduled to visit Northern Ireland last October, but the visit was cancelled on health grounds.