Queen Elizabeth Shakes Hands With a Former I.R.A. Leader

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In a highly symbolic moment once thought "unthinkable", Queen Elizabeth traveled to Northern Ireland on Wednesday and met with Deputy Prime Minister Martin McGuinness, a former commander in the Irish Republican Army. McGuinness was a leading member of the group during years of sectarian violence between the IRA and the British Army, including the Bloody Sunday massacre and a 1979 bombing that killed the Queen's own cousin, Lord Mountbatten.

While the Queen's visit was met with some protests in Belfast that called to mind earlier clashes between Protestant and Catholics in the region, it was a major step forward in the effort to heal many of the old wounds of "The Troubles." It was also a big moment for the Queen who is still marking her Diamond Jubilee this summer with several major and unprecedented events. Previous visits to the country were shrouded in secrecy and she was flown in from offshore as a security precaution. According to the BBC, this is the first visit where Elizabeth actually stayed overnight in Northern Ireland.

It was not a formal political visit, but the meeting was a highly orchestrated affair between the Queen and McGuiness' Sinn Fein party, which is the second largest party in the Northern Ireland Assembly, but refuses to let its members take their seats in the main British Parliament. While it won't put an end to the decades of hard feelings between the two sides, it is still being lauded as an important step on the long road to reconciliation and peace.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.