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Queen Elizabeth Visits Ireland Under Tight Security

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Queen Elizabeth is the first British monarch in more than a century to visit the Irish Republic. Fintan O'Toole, a columnist for the Irish Times, talks to Renee Montagne about the queen's visit.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

The queen of England is in Ireland today. It's the first visit by a reigning British monarch since Ireland became a nation nearly 90 years ago. And ever since Ireland fought a fierce war of independence in the early 20th century there's been no love lost between the countries. Even now, Dublin is under incredibly tight security with a third of Ireland's police force working on the queen's protection. Fintan O'Toole is a commentator for the Irish Times. He joined us from his office in Dublin.

Good morning.

Mr. FINTAN O'TOOLE (Commentator, Irish Times): Morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Now, for those of us who may not have been following this in recent year, lay out the general sentiment of Irish people towards England and especially the monarchy.

Mr. O'TOOLE: Well, you know, obviously, historically there's a very poor relationship, because if you just think about it very simply the last time a British monarch was in what's now the Republic of Ireland it was exactly 100 years ago - 1911, George V, the current queen's grandfather.

And he came as the imperial overlord. Dublin was the center of British power in Ireland. The people who were governing Ireland were not elected by Irish people. They were British aristocracy.

So obviously historically the relationship has been an extremely fraught one, to put it mildly. And, of course, in many ways this didn't cease to be the case when Ireland became independent in 1922 because you had the unresolved problem of Northern Ireland, which is still a part of the United Kingdom, still part of the current queen's domain.

So it has taken quite a long time for the Irish and British governments to start working together. And that really started in the 1990s. The success of the peace process, I think, has cemented the relationship. And really the queen finally being able to pay a visit to her nearest neighbor after all is really putting the seal on that really fundamental change.

MONTAGNE: And now the queen arrives. She's wearing emerald green, which has enormous symbolic significance for Ireland. How did people respond to her?

Mr. O'TOOLE: Well, you know, you had a minority - a very small minority of people who were out protesting - maybe 200, 300 people. The vast majority of people, I think, were actually very touched by the queen's arrival yesterday, ad particularly by the way she conducted herself. You know, she handled it with tremendous dignity.

And there was an amazing moment yesterday where the queen went with the Irish president to a place in Dublin called the Garden of Remembrance, which is a sort of national memorial to the Irish patriots who were executed by the British over the last couple of hundred years.

And, you know, if you think about this, this is pretty historical. I don't know of any historical parallels who a reigning monarch paying tribute to people who were executed for high treason against her predecessors, you know. And it actually was a very, very moving moment, you know, even for hard bitten, cynical journalists like me. It is something I never expected to see.

And I think most Irish people saw it as a very generous and humble act. And one that actually just got rid of this whole psychological sense that the British are superior to the Irish, you know, and the Irish kind of reacting defensively to the sense of superiority.

That, you know, the queen just by the way she conducted herself just sort of got rid of all that very, very quickly and made it clear that she was coming as a friendly neighbor from one country to an equal free country. And I think that in historic terms is actually very important.

MONTAGNE: Well, just finally and ever so briefly. I gather that the queen is going to at least watch a pint of Guinness being poured.

Mr. O'TOOLE: She is.

MONTAGNE: Ireland's great drink.

Mr. O'TOOLE: Yeah. She doesn't drink Guinness, I'm reliably informed, not surprisingly. But they are bringing her to the Guinness brewery. And if we're talking about symbols and the potency of symbols, is there any more potent symbol of Irishness than a pint of Guinness?

MONTAGNE: Thank you very much for joining us.

Mr. O'TOOLE: You're very welcome.

MONTAGNE: Fintan O'Toole is a commentator for the Irish Times.

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