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Thursday, 14 February, 2002, 12:56 GMT
Paving the way for the Queen
Charles in Dublin street in 1995
Charles also visited Dublin in 1995
By BBC correspondent James Helm in Dublin

Prince Charles's visit to Ireland will be his second official trip here in recent years.

His first, seven years ago, was hailed as a success. This two-day visit, overshadowed as it is by the death of his aunt, Princess Margaret, will still be useful in paving the way for a future visit by the Queen.

Though officials won't publicly discuss any such possible visit, it is likely to figure in the conversation when the prince meets the Irish Prime Minister, Bertie Ahern and the country's president, Mary McAleese.

A royal visit by the Queen would be an historic event.

The Queen dressed in mourning for Princess Margaret
The Queen could visit Ireland in 2003
Of all the symbols of the peace process in Northern Ireland, and of the developing relationship between the United Kingdom and the Irish Republic, a visit by Queen Elizabeth would be among the most potent.

When - and it now does look like when, rather than if - she comes to Dublin, it would be the first visit by a reigning British monarch since George V and Queen Mary toured Ireland in 1911.

No British King or Queen has made the short trip over the Irish Sea since Ireland gained its independence.

Queen invited

All of the Queen's immediate family have visited the Republic of Ireland in recent years, gradually preparing the way for the monarch herself.

Three years after Prince Charles toured Ireland in 1995, his father, the Duke of Edinburgh, also arrived.

Irish president Mary McAleese
Irish president Mary McAleese has already invited the Queen
The invitation is already on the Royal mantelpiece: Mary McAleese, the Irish president, made the offer last year.

Her predecessor, Mary Robinson, also invited the Queen to pay a Royal visit.

For diplomats, it has been a case of waiting for the diplomatic and security conditions to be right.

Mountbatten killed

The major sticking point now, however, appears to be the timing of any such visit: the Queen's diary of public engagements is full in this, the anniversary of her 50 years on the throne.

That may mean it is 2003 before the visit actually goes ahead.

Princess Margaret and Earl Snowdon at their wedding
Princess Margaret and Earl Snowdon visited in 1961, the year after their wedding
In 1961 Princess Margaret became the first Royal to visit Ireland for more than three decades when she travelled with her then husband, Lord Snowdon, to Birr Castle in County Offaly.

In 1979 the relationship between the Royal family and Ireland suffered its most serious setback when the IRA killed Lord Louis Mountbatten, the Queen's uncle.

Lord Mountbatten, who was especially close to Prince Charles, died in a bomb attack at Mullaghmore, Co Sligo.

'Excellent relationship'

The fact that Prince Charles is making another visit reflects changing, more peaceful times.

On his itinerary will be meetings with Ireland's President and Prime Minister, plus visits to projects working with elderly people and drug addicts.

The British Ambassador to Ireland, Sir Ivor Roberts, said Prince Charles's trip itself had significance.

"It signifies further normalisation between our two countries and underlines the excellent relationship which exists between Ireland and the United Kingdom."

See also:

10 Nov 98 | UK
Philip in historic visit
11 Dec 00 | Northern Ireland
Clinton's Irish farewell
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