Irish historians tell Channel 4 News the Queen’s visit to Ireland is “momentous”, showing all sides are ready to move on – not least because of the global political and economic realities.
Channel 4 News Reporter Carl Dinnen, in Dublin, said there are “forty shades of green opinion” on the visit, “from the majority opinion (isn’t it lovely to have her here) through Sinn Fein (this isn’t the right time) to the Real IRA (she’s a wanted war criminal)”.
Controversial as the event may be for some, the organisers of the highly symbolic visit have not shied away from visits to memorials marking some of the most painful events in the combined histories of the two nations.
The hope is that the visit will mark the fraught relationship of the past appropriately, while looking to the future.
Views range from the majority opinion (isn’t it lovely to have her here) through Sinn Fein (this isn’t the right time) to the Real IRA (she’s a wanted war criminal. Channel 4 News Reporter Carl Dinnen
During her four-day visit, the Queen will visit several memorial venues, including Croke Park – the site of one of the worst massacres of the Troubles, when British troops opened fire on civilians watching a football match in 1920, killing 14 people.
She is also meeting leading Irish politicians, including Taoiseach Enda Kenny and President Mary McAleese.
Historian Professor Jane Ohlmeyer, Professor of Modern History at Trinity College Dublin, told Channel 4 News: “Mary McAleese’s presidency has had the theme of building bridges. This is one very important bridge.
“It’s very much part of the ongoing peace process and it’s hugely significant, politically and economically. The reality is our economy is in a miserable state and this opportunity allows us to present ourselves as well as possible not just to Britain but to the world.
“It’s momentous. We are all ready to move on now. That doesn’t mean forgetting our history – we do that at our peril – but now we can look back in a more mature way.”
Professor Eunan O’Halpin, Professor of Contemporary Irish History at Trinity College Dublin, put it more bluntly.
“We’re so completely broke,” he said.
He told Channel 4 News the visit was the “culmination of a process”, but he was not expecting, or hoping for, any kind of apology, wherever the Queen visits.
“Of course, at places like Croke Park, there was an unforgiveable massacre. I know it is fashionable to apologise and of course we should acknowledge the suffering and pain, but I find apologies for historical things nonsense,” he said.
Lots of neighbours don’t like each other much. But if you turn down your music, you give back their football, this is life. Professor Eunan O’Halpin
Professor Mary Daly, of University College Dublin, said the Queen had to visit controversial sites to show how serious the visit was.
“It was imperative, if this visit was serious, that she does go there,” she told Channel 4 News.
“It’s a very important visit – and shows the genuine move towards mutual respect between the two countries. But it’s not a dramatic change. It’s a reflection of the process, and we will hopefully move to the point one day where a visit from the Royal family is important, but not remarkable – it’s normality.”
Professor O’Halpin agreed that the visit was important – but also hoped that it would help normalise the relationship.
“Look, lots of neighbours don’t like each other much. But if you turn down your music, you give back their football, this is life,” he said.
'Even if you wanted to see the Queen - you'd struggle'
The route and timings of this trip are not advertised so even if you wanted to catch a glimpse of HMQ you’d be hard-pressed to manage it, writes Channel 4 News Political Editor Gary Gibbon, from Dublin.
One Irish broadcaster I spoke to worried that the world would think Dublin a weird, unfriendly place when the images were beamed around the world.
This was a trip long thought of and only now deemed appropriate and do-able. But what strikes you is that this symbol of normalisation looks distinctly abnormal as state visits go. No well-wishing crowds, no walkabout, a fly-past I just saw go overhead is as much as people will see til they get home to the telly.
Read more from Gary Gibbon on the Queen's visit to Ireland