The Queen has taken the historic step of shaking hands with former IRA commander Martin McGuinness today (June 27th). This is Her Majesty’s second history-making visit to Northern Ireland, the last time being her very first State Visit.
McGuinness, now Northern Ireland’s Deputy First Minister, was in a receiving line when the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh entered the Lyric Theatre in Belfast. The event taking place was organized by a charity, Co-Operation Ireland, which works to bring communities together. It certainly does! [See the video here.] The Queen, dressed in lime green, shook his hand as cameras captured the moment.
The meeting is hugely significant. McGuinness would not meet the Queen during her first State Visit to the country last year, but had a change of heart afterwards.
“I was most impressed with her speech in Dublin castle [last year], when she talked about how we all wished things could’ve been done differently, or not at all,” McGuinness said in an interview for RTE.
Many people have wondered what must have gone through the royal couple’s minds as they met with McGuinness. CBS news writes that experts say McGuinness was the IRA’s chief of staff when the group assassinated Lord Louis Mountbatten, a cousin of the Queen and the maternal uncle of Prince Philip.
Mountbatten was killed in 1979 when a bomb planted on his fishing boat exploded. The blast also killed the boat boy and one of Mountbatten’s grandsons, and seriously injured his daughter Patricia and son-in-law, Lord Brabourne. Brabourne’s elderly mother, the Dowager Baroness Brabourne, died the following day from her injuries.
Time, it seems, has healed a bit of the rift. The IRA and Sinn Fein made the decision in 2005 to renounce violence and disarm. McGuinness says: “I want to be a Deputy First Minister for everybody.”
“Was I pleased that [the Queen] spoke Irish in Dublin castle? Yes I was. Was I pleased that she stood very reverently to honor those who had given their lives … for Ireland’s freedom? I was impressed by that.”