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A truly unprecedented journey Her Majesty believes is worth the risk

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Britain's Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh pictured with Irish President Mary McAleese and her husband Dr Martin McAleese  at Dublin Castle

Britain's Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh pictured with Irish President Mary McAleese and her husband Dr Martin McAleese at Dublin Castle

Julien Behal

The British Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh arrive at Dublin Castle for a State dinner

The British Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh arrive at Dublin Castle for a State dinner

Irish Taoiseach  Enda Kenny talks with Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron at Government buildings where the two held talks prior to attending the state dinner in honour of Queen Elizabeth II

Irish Taoiseach Enda Kenny talks with Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron at Government buildings where the two held talks prior to attending the state dinner in honour of Queen Elizabeth II

Pool

Protestors march as the Garda form a protective ring around Dublin Castle as the Queen attends a state dinner on May 18, 2011 in Dublin

Protestors march as the Garda form a protective ring around Dublin Castle as the Queen attends a state dinner on May 18, 2011 in Dublin

Chris Jackson

Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh arrive to attend a State Banquet in Dublin Castle on May 18, 2011 in Dublin

Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh arrive to attend a State Banquet in Dublin Castle on May 18, 2011 in Dublin

Oli Scarff

A protester near Dublin Castle ahead of the state dinner in honour of Queen Elizabeth II on the second day of her State Visit to Ireland

A protester near Dublin Castle ahead of the state dinner in honour of Queen Elizabeth II on the second day of her State Visit to Ireland

Niall Carson

Protestors outside Dublin Castle ahead of the state dinner in honour of Queen Elizabeth II on the second day of her State Visit to Ireland

Protestors outside Dublin Castle ahead of the state dinner in honour of Queen Elizabeth II on the second day of her State Visit to Ireland

Niall Carson

Irish Taoiseach  Enda Kenny pictured with Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron at Government buildings where the two held talks prior to attending the state dinner in honour of Queen Elizabeth II

Irish Taoiseach Enda Kenny pictured with Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron at Government buildings where the two held talks prior to attending the state dinner in honour of Queen Elizabeth II

Niall Carson

Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh arrive to attend a State Banquet in Dublin Castle on May 18, 2011 in Dublin, Ireland

Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh arrive to attend a State Banquet in Dublin Castle on May 18, 2011 in Dublin, Ireland

Oli Scarff

President of the Irish Republic Mary McAleese, Queen Elizabeth II and GAA President Christy Cooney at Croke Park, Dublin, during the second day of her State Visit to Ireland.

President of the Irish Republic Mary McAleese, Queen Elizabeth II and GAA President Christy Cooney at Croke Park, Dublin, during the second day of her State Visit to Ireland.

Julien Behal

Queen Elizabeth II at the Irish War memorial Garden in Dublin.

Queen Elizabeth II at the Irish War memorial Garden in Dublin.

Eamonn Farrell

Queen Elizabeth II accompanied by President Mary McAleese visit the Garden of Remembrance on May 17, 2011 in Dublin, Ireland.

Queen Elizabeth II accompanied by President Mary McAleese visit the Garden of Remembrance on May 17, 2011 in Dublin, Ireland.

Pool

DUBLIN, IRELAND - MAY 17: Queen Elizabeth II and President Mary McAleese lay a wreaths at the Garden of Remembrance on May 17, 2011 in Dublin, Ireland. The Duke and Queen's visit is the first by a monarch since 1911. An unprecedented security operation is taking place with much of the centre of Dublin turning into a car free zone. Republican dissident groups have made it clear they are intent on disrupting proceedings.  (Photo by Irish Government - Pool/Getty Images)

DUBLIN, IRELAND - MAY 17: Queen Elizabeth II and President Mary McAleese lay a wreaths at the Garden of Remembrance on May 17, 2011 in Dublin, Ireland. The Duke and Queen's visit is the first by a monarch since 1911. An unprecedented security operation is taking place with much of the centre of Dublin turning into a car free zone. Republican dissident groups have made it clear they are intent on disrupting proceedings. (Photo by Irish Government - Pool/Getty Images)

Pool

Queen Elizabeth's state visit to the Republic of Ireland. May 2011

Queen Elizabeth's state visit to the Republic of Ireland. May 2011

Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh offered a pint of Guinness  at the Guinness Storehouse

Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh offered a pint of Guinness at the Guinness Storehouse

Maxwells

Queen Elizabeth's state visit to the Republic of Ireland. May 2011

Queen Elizabeth's state visit to the Republic of Ireland. May 2011

Maxwells

DUBLIN, IRELAND - MAY 17:  Queen Elizabeth II arrives to lay a wreath at Dublin Memorial Garden on May 17, 2011 in Dublin, Ireland. The Duke and Queen's visit is the first by a monarch since 1911. An unprecedented security operation is taking place with much of the centre of Dublin turning into a car free zone. Republican dissident groups have made it clear they are intent on disrupting proceedings.  (Photo by Chris Jackson/Getty Images)

DUBLIN, IRELAND - MAY 17: Queen Elizabeth II arrives to lay a wreath at Dublin Memorial Garden on May 17, 2011 in Dublin, Ireland. The Duke and Queen's visit is the first by a monarch since 1911. An unprecedented security operation is taking place with much of the centre of Dublin turning into a car free zone. Republican dissident groups have made it clear they are intent on disrupting proceedings. (Photo by Chris Jackson/Getty Images)

Chris Jackson

Queen Elizabeth's state visit to the Republic of Ireland. May 2011

Queen Elizabeth's state visit to the Republic of Ireland. May 2011

Pool

Queen Elizabeth's state visit to the Republic of Ireland. May 2011

Queen Elizabeth's state visit to the Republic of Ireland. May 2011

Pool

Queen Elizabeth's state visit to the Republic of Ireland. May 2011

Queen Elizabeth's state visit to the Republic of Ireland. May 2011

Pool

Protesters throw missiles at Irish police in the streets adjacent to the Garden on Remembrance where Queen Elizabeth II laid a wreath on May 17, 2011 in Dublin, Ireland.

Protesters throw missiles at Irish police in the streets adjacent to the Garden on Remembrance where Queen Elizabeth II laid a wreath on May 17, 2011 in Dublin, Ireland.

Oli Scarff

DUBLIN, IRELAND - MAY 17:  Police and protesters clash in the streets adjacent to the Garden on Remembrance where Queen Elizabeth II laid a wreath on May 17, 2011 in Dublin, Ireland. The Duke and Queen's visit is the first by a monarch since 1911. An unprecedented security operation is taking place with much of the centre of Dublin turning into a car free zone. Republican dissident groups have made it clear they are intent on disrupting proceedings.  (Photo by Oli Scarff/Getty Images)

DUBLIN, IRELAND - MAY 17: Police and protesters clash in the streets adjacent to the Garden on Remembrance where Queen Elizabeth II laid a wreath on May 17, 2011 in Dublin, Ireland. The Duke and Queen's visit is the first by a monarch since 1911. An unprecedented security operation is taking place with much of the centre of Dublin turning into a car free zone. Republican dissident groups have made it clear they are intent on disrupting proceedings. (Photo by Oli Scarff/Getty Images)

Oli Scarff

Queen Elizabeth's state visit to the Republic of Ireland. May 2011

Queen Elizabeth's state visit to the Republic of Ireland. May 2011

Pool

  Protesters throw missiles at Irish police in the streets adjacent to the Garden on Remembrance where Queen Elizabeth II laid a wreath on May 17, 2011 in Dublin, Ireland.

Protesters throw missiles at Irish police in the streets adjacent to the Garden on Remembrance where Queen Elizabeth II laid a wreath on May 17, 2011 in Dublin, Ireland.

Oli Scarff

Queen Elizabeth II  and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh are shown the Book of Kells during a visit to Trinity College Dublin on May 17

Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh are shown the Book of Kells during a visit to Trinity College Dublin on May 17

Pool

The Queen  shakes hands with Irish President Mary McAleese after arriving at Aras an Uachtarain (The Irish President's official residence) in Phoenix Park, Dublin, Ireland.

The Queen shakes hands with Irish President Mary McAleese after arriving at Aras an Uachtarain (The Irish President's official residence) in Phoenix Park, Dublin, Ireland.

John Stillwell

The Queen at the Aras an Uachtarain.

The Queen at the Aras an Uachtarain.

Protestors make their way down a street in Dublin after the Queen arrived in the country for a four day state visit.

Protestors make their way down a street in Dublin after the Queen arrived in the country for a four day state visit.

Niall Carson

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Britain's Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh pictured with Irish President Mary McAleese and her husband Dr Martin McAleese at Dublin Castle

People use the word "historic" to describe everything from a football game to the invention of a new model of vacuum cleaner. Sometimes you think we have lost the sensitivity to perceive events in their true significance - so much is "epoch-making", "ground-breaking" and "unprecedented".

But yesterday what we witnessed in the arrival of Her Majesty in Dublin was all of those things.

Those aren't just words. The power of historical fact and symbolic impact came together and were felt in the sinews, the nerves and the heart.

In the teeth of hurt on all sides and some resentment, some opposition and much disbelief, two nations met on equal terms in a full exchange of regard, respect, heritage and potential.

There was nothing left out. If a few weeks ago her grandson Prince William had married in his Irish Guards uniform with shamrock epaulettes, the Queen could turn up resplendent in a green outfit by her favourite dressmaker, Angela Kelly, from a Liverpool Irish background.

And what more could a British monarch do than bow her head in honour of those who had felt compelled to give their lives in rejection of what her throne represented? What more could an Irish President and government do than welcome fulsomely onto their soil the head of state of a nation which their fellow countrymen and women historically and in current times had helped build and transform?

There is a common feature of "commemoration" in Ireland, north and south. Victimhood. The massacres of 1641, the penal laws, the fall of Parnell, the Home Rule betrayal, the Somme, Easter 1916. And behind it all the spectres of famine and emigration. Both republicanism and unionism often wallow in betrayals, real or imagined. And they have their own wars in which Britain historically has played either a direct or indirect role.

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But none of this is unique. Germany bludgeoned and occupied France only 70 years ago. Russia and Poland. India and Pakistan. All those countries have maintained "relations", kept doors open even after wars so bloody they dwarf in scale the conflicts on our fringe of western Europe.

If individuals can be seen to represent their people, in the way we all assume they do by the status and respect we accord them, then yesterday a deal was done which was more meaningful than any political negotiation. Political structures can break down. Even peace processes can falter or, at worst, disintegrate. But the Queen's visit and her reception yesterday gave to relations between these two islands a normality and mutuality that has never existed before.

The reference point for the visit is not 1911, the last time a British monarch visited Dublin. In fact, these two islands and their jurisdictions have never met each other on anything like the terms that were established yesterday.

Obviously the focus in the run up to the Queen's arrival has been given over to those who don't feel that it is time to move on. Indeed, it remains to be seen how much of the visit is coloured by the security precautions that were made necessary by what we have all been told is a mere handful of malcontents. The streets were emptied. There were no cheering crowds. There were ranks of armed police in riot gear. That's the power of anybody with access to a gun. Cead mile failte - how are you?

The narrative was very much dictated by a minority. But there are also a large number of people for whom the visit, while welcome, is still contentious. Those people may feel some sense of historical betrayal, or the concept of "unfinished business" while "partition" remains, or that the claims of "dead generations" will outweigh the claims of children yet unborn.

Also among those disquieted will be people bereaved during the Troubles, and they have every right to feel whatever their grief demands.

Among those is the Queen.

We should not allow her status or her symbolic position to obscure the simple fact that her beloved cousin Lord Mountbatten was blown to pieces by the IRA on August 27, 1979.

The reason why Mountbatten was targeted was precisely because of his proximity to the throne and because of his closeness to, for instance, Prince Charles, to whom he was a mentor.

So it would be disingenuous now to pretend that somehow the impact of that murder was not registered as emotionally by the Queen - perhaps even more so than the death of Diana.

The Queen - as these things go in Northern Ireland - is a victim of the Troubles. Just as the relatives of the other three people who died after the bomb went off on the Shadow V, and of the 18 soldiers killed at Warrenpoint, and of Michael Hudson, the 28-year-old civilian shot at Carlingford, all that same day, are victims too.

Because they wore a "uniform" - even a fishing cap and jacket - does not stop them being family.

There may be people on the other side of the cordons in Dublin who would wish harm upon the Queen herself. Certainly the security measures took that as read.

Do people think the Queen doesn't somehow know she is a target? That she doesn't get scared? And yet she stepped out of the plane in plain sight and began her four-day visit with that peculiar and stubborn courage that she has shown throughout her career, even in less vexatious circumstances, but which seemed yesterday to be especially appropriate to her diminutive, graceful, friendly 85-year-old frame.

There are many people in Northern Ireland who would never set foot in the Republic because of bereavement; there are many in England who harbour nothing but resentment against everything Irish because there are people who will never come home, just as there are people in Ireland who find it hard to look their neighbours in the eye.

But it is a measure of the Queen's diligence in her duty that she made that journey up to the doors of Aras an Uachtarain to be welcomed by the President of Ireland. This isn't about gardens of remembrance for this independence struggle or that war. It is not about Croke Park and this massacre or that atrocity, though all those things are of importance.

It's about one elderly woman putting herself in harm's way to make something happen that only she could, making the journeys to and from Ireland and Britain a bit more routine, a bit more ordinary, a bit less loaded.

People asked why did it take so long, but that's the wrong question. The question is: why did it happen now?

And the answer is - and people need to understand this - Elizabeth II believed what she was told. Just like Ronan Kerr, she believed that the risk was worth it.

Let's hope she's right.


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