Queen Elizabeth II will visit Ireland for four days beginning Tuesday, May 17th. For those not familiar with the history of Ireland, the relationship between The Crown and and its first colony has been one of the longest and most difficult in the history of Britain's monarchy. The first British monarch to visit Ireland was Henry II in 1171. He was followed, 400 years later by Henry VIII who became the King of Ireland as well as England.
What followed was centuries of what even the most committed Anglophile must surely agree was merciless exploitation and cruelty. Millions of Irish people were either driven from their lands or driven to their deaths. It was under Britain's longest-reigning monarch, Victoria, that Ireland suffered the terrible famines of the mid-19th Century when the potato crops failed and an estimated one million people starved to death. Members of Parliament called it “The Irish Problem” and historians agree that the exportation of food from the starving Irish was a deliberate attempt at extermination of a people the English believed to be barbarians.
And now Elizabeth will come to Ireland, the first monarch since 1911. Today Ireland is a sovereign nation no longer tied to England. There are those who believe that the Queen’s visit will help lay to rest the troubles of the past. Tourism will increase. Crowds will turn out to watch. Yet security will be tight. Irish memories are long. Both nations have been scarred by the perceived betrayals of the other: Ireland by the brutality of British rule; Britain by the neutrality of Ireland at its hour of greatest need in WWII. Can she win over the Irish? Probably. The Irish population is a young one. Most were born long after WWII, long after Ireland’s independence and the Queen, after all, is a grandmother, a harmless figurehead, fond of large hats.