The Queen landed in Dublin this morning wearing a green dress and hat to begin her historical tour of the former British colony. And this is not the kind of "historical tour" that involves fun trips to the Guinness brewery and castles on emerald hillsides. The historical nature of the trip involves not only the fact that Her Royal Highness is the first British monarch to visit Ireland since their war for independence in 1916 but also the history of violence that's made security a grave concern during the Queen's visit. A phalanx of 8,000 police officers will protect Queen Elizabeth during her visit, a measure that may not be as extreme as it sounds as authorities discovered two bombs on a bus just hours before the monarch's arrival.
Memories of the British executing freedom fighters in Dublin and car bombs rattling London are fresher than many Americans might imagine. The complexity of the relationship between the United Kingdom and Ireland since the Irish Civil War began in 1916 is also difficult to express. On one hand, the two neighboring nations share a similar, albeit violent history, and for decades, the two governments have worked closely on a solution to the social and political turmoil in Northern Ireland. Animosity runs deep on both sides, however, as wounds are still fresh from the sometimes oppressive British presence in Belfast and resultant violence by groups like the Irish Republican Army (IRA). However, leaders on both sides hope that the Queen's visit will punctuate the two nation's troubled history and finally mark the positive shift in their relationship set in motion nearly two decades ago by Irish Prime Minister John Major.
The Queen's four-day tour will include a number of symbolic visits including a wreath-laying ceremony at a memorial for the Irish war for independence. The security detail, some of which carry over to President Obama's visit early next week, is one of the largest such efforts Ireland has seen in years and will cost the economically troubled nation as much as $42.4 million.
Police presence aside, the occasion has spurred a host of commentary about the power and role of the monarchy. Protesters filled the streets of Dublin as the Queen made her way around Dublin--much of the messaging seemed directed at the very existence of the monarchy. Irish President Mary McAleese steered attention towards the generational shift the visit represents:
[It's] a phenomenal sign and signal of the success of the peace process and absolutely the right moment for us to welcome onto Irish soil, Her Majesty the Queen, the head of state of our immediate next-door neighbours, the people with whom we are forging a new future, a future very, very different from the past, on very different terms from the past and I think that visit will send the message that we are, both jurisdictions, determined to make the future a much, much better place.
Outspoken musician Morrissey also wants a different future and drew a parallel between the monarchy's presence and the Arab Spring:
The very existence of the Queen and her now enormous family--all supported by the British taxpayer whether the British taxpayer likes it or not--is entirely against any notion of democracy, and is against freedom of speech. For a broad historical view of what the Queen is and how she "rules", examine Gaddafi or Mubarak, and see if you can spot any difference. You won't be able to.
Most major British papers are liveblogging the visit. And Twitter's already very crowded with leprechaun jokes about her hat.