TWO dates come to mind as Queen Elizabeth begins her historic State Visit to Ireland today. The first is of a century ago when in 1911 George V was the last British monarch to visit southern Ireland officially; at that time Ireland had been treated as a colony for almost 700 years.
The second is of April 1988 when the Good Friday Accord brought to an end decades of often violent hostility between Britain and the Irish Free State and encouraged the subsequent reconciliation of which Queen Elizabeth's visit is an important and possibly crowning part. The past will be recalled in several symbolic events: at the National War Memorial Gardens she will lay a wreath in memory of the 50'000 Irish soldiers who died in the British Army in the First World War; and she will lay another wreath in the Garden of Remembrance which commemorates those killed in fighting against Britain for Irish independence. Queen Elizabeth has travelled far and wide in her long reign but this short journey from London to Dublin is certainly among the most important she has ever made since it acknowledges past injustices and builds for the future on the shared values of two neighbours in culture, sport, trade, the professions, membership of the European Union and a commitment to democracy.
The Irish prime minister Enda Kenny has rightly called this a moment of healing.