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Queen's visit to Ireland symbolizes more 'normal' relationship

Much is being made of the historic nature of Queen Elizabeth's trip to Ireland. Some say that obscures ties that have vastly improved in recent decades.

By Correspondent / May 17, 2011

Britain's Queen Elizabeth meets students and staff of Trinity College Dublin during her State Visit to Ireland in Dublin, on May 17.

Maxwell's/Reuters

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Dublin, Ireland

Perhaps the most notable aspect of Queen Elizabeth II's trip to the Republic of Ireland is its normalcy.

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To be sure, tight security surrounds the trip, which was marred by several bomb threats. And much has been made of its historic nature – the first visit by a reigning British monarch to the republic and the first royal trip to Dublin in 100 years since George V came to the city, which was then under British rule.

Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny characterized the trip as a “symbolic conclusion to many years of difficulty” that span the division of Ireland in 1921 and the 30-year Northern Ireland conflict that drew to a close in 1998.

IN PICTURES: Queen Elizabeth visits Ireland

But Belfast-based author and commentator Malachi O’Doherty says the mythmaking that has accompanied the visit obscures the already normal relationship between the two countries and their populations.

“The danger in framing this visit as a completion of peacemaking and the 'bookending' of the Troubles [in Northern Ireland] is that, with protests and security, it will look like a failure. We are generating the myth that the British and Irish states have been perpetually hostile toward each other until now – this is nonsense."

Strong trading partners

Britain has long been Ireland's largest trading partner. In 2010, Ireland exported goods valuing a total of €13.8 billion (approx. $19.6 billion) to the United Kingdom, something that would not have occurred if the two states were at loggerheads. In addition, the British government estimates that around 3 million of its citizens visit Ireland as tourists annually.

Stepping off the plane at Casement military airbase in Baldonnel, County Dublin, the queen sported an emerald green dress coat that many took as a symbolic gesture. Her arrival came amid bomb threats from dissident Irish republicans opposed to the visit and to continuing British rule in Northern Ireland. Six incidents, including a pipe bomb discovered on a bus traveling to the capital from Maynooth in county Kildare, south-west of Dublin, have been recorded. A controlled explosion on the device was last night by the Irish Army. The other threats are thus far thought to have been hoaxes, called-in in the hope of disrupting the occasion.

Accompanied by her husband, Prince Philip, the queen was whisked off to Áras an Uachtaráin, the official residence of the Irish president, where they met and dined with Ireland’s outgoing president, Mary McAleese, and her husband, Martin. Formerly the residence of Britain’s governor general in Ireland, it is now occupied by Belfast, Northern Ireland-born President McAleese, whose second term as head of state ends this year.

McAleese was named as being among the 100 most powerful women in the world by Forbes in 2009, largely for her work toward cementing peace in Northern Ireland.

She first mooted the idea of an official state visit by the British monarch in 1998.

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