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Queen's visit to Ireland: History of British Royal Visits to Ireland

Updated on May 31, 2011

Timeline for British royal visits to Ireland

  • 1171 Henry II
  • 1210 John
  • 1394 Richard II
  • 1690 William of Orange and James II
  • 1821 George IV
  • 1849 and1900. Queen Victoria
  • Between 1903 and 1907 Edward VII made 3 visits
  • 1911 George V
  • May 2011 Elizabeth II, expected

British Royal visit to Republic of Ireland

Queen Elizabeth visited Ireland for the first time between 17th-20th May 2011. When Queen Elizabeth II of England sets foot in the Republic of Ireland, it was a truly historic occasion - the first visit by a reigning monach since Ireland won its independence in 1921. For the first time in 100 years, a British Monarch visited the south of Ireland ,and this time, not as king/queen of Ireland but as a foreign dignitary.

The visit attracted a small amount of controversy, but the fact that it happened at all was a milestone in British-Irish relations. Some people in Ireland would still see the British crown as their enemy. With a rise in violence once more among extremist 'dissident' Republicans in Northern Ireland, the Queen's visit was also a risky one and the security operation around her was large, and expensive - though ultimately successful.

However, it is far from being the first time a British monarch has visited Ireland. Starting in the Middle Ages, this article is a brief guide to the most historically-significant, and most surprising, visits by British kings and queens to Ireland.

Visits described below are:

  • Henry II - first English king in Ireland
  • 1690 and William of Orange
  • Victoria, the famine Queen
  • George V feted in 1911
  • Queen Elizabeth II - controversy in 2011

Queen's visit to Ireland is announced

Henry II was the first King of England to visit Ireland. He claimed the title 'Lord of Ireland' starting centuries of conflict between British and Irish.
Henry II was the first King of England to visit Ireland. He claimed the title 'Lord of Ireland' starting centuries of conflict between British and Irish.

Henry II - first English King in Ireland

Henry II was the first English monach to set foot on Irish soil, and the first to claim lordship over the island. With his visit, the modern history of British-Irish relations began.

In 1167 an Irish king called Dermot McMurrough who had been pushed out of his lands fled to wales where he enlisted the help of a local Norman Lord to help him regain the kingdom of Leinster. The price which the earl Richard de Clare (known as Strongbow) charged was to inherit the kingdom on Dermot's death - this happened sooner than expected in 1171. Suddenly Henry II was interested in Ireland. One of his most powerful lords, and one of the least trusted, had now established himself as king in a neighbouring island.

Late in 1171 Henry arrived in Ireland with a considerable show of strength. Many of the native kings in Ireland, as well as Strongbow, came to Henry to offer their submission as vassals - on the understanding that he would allow them to continue in possession of their lands. Henry took the title 'Lord of Ireland' for himself and accepted as vassals both Irish and Norman landowners.He spent Christmas in Dublin and left in 1172, leaving Strongbow in charge of Leinster, but with the strategically important locations of Wexford, Limerick, Cork and Wicklow Castle in royal hands.

Yet the meeting was not a happy one. Not even the Romans had extended their empire to Ireland, and Henry II was the first non-Irish person to make a claim to rule the island. The Normans looked down on the native Irish, their historians wrote of the strange Irishmen with their long hair and beards (the Normans favoured short hair and shaving), their guttural language and weird cultural practices. When more Norman lords came to Ireland looking for land, Henry indulged them at the expense of his Irish vassals - he did not see his Irish subjects as equal citizens. Thus a sour note entered British-Irish relations which affected history between the two islands for centuries to come.

The victory of Willaim of Orange is still commemorated by Protestants (mainly in the north of Ireland) every 12th of July.
The victory of Willaim of Orange is still commemorated by Protestants (mainly in the north of Ireland) every 12th of July.

1690: English War on Irish soil

1690 is still rcommemorated in Northern Ireland as a turning point in Irish history. But really the battles of that year were an English war fought on Irish soil. Two claimants to the English throne faced each other in a series of battles - the most famous being the battle of the Boyne and the most decisive being the Battle of Aughrim later in the year. The Protestant King William of Orange was victorious and became unchallenged King of England. The ousted King James II was Catholic and so carried the hopes of the Catholic population of Ireland that he would restore them to a more favourable position. They never got to find out if he would have kept his word.

King William's decision to meet James in Ireland, before he had chance to build up an army there, proved to be the right one in his bid for the throne. But the battles fought in that year changed Irish history - the majority-Catholic population was henceforth ruled by a priviledged Protestant minority. Again the stage was set for things to come.

Queen Victoria, 1882.
Queen Victoria, 1882.

Victoria, the Famine Queen

During the reign of Queen Victoria, the British Empire grew to cover one quarter of the world - but there was trouble closer to home. Irish Nationalism (the desire for Irish independence) was a growing force and Queen Victoria believed that a royal visit might help promote greater loyalty in Ireland towards the monarchy.

Victoria's first visit to Ireland in 1849 was a public relations success, but it had no lasting impact or effect on the growth of Irish nationalism. The planners of the trip tried to protect her from seeing the worst effects of the famine which was raging at the time, but she wrote to King Leopold of Belgium of the poverty she had seen. Queen Victoria donated £2000 to help victims of the famine in Ireland, making her the biggest individual donor.

King George V was welcomed to Ireland in 1911.
King George V was welcomed to Ireland in 1911.

George V 1911 - last loyalty

The fact that the Irish emphatically rejected British Rule from 1916 on, culminating in the formation of the Irish Free State in 1922, makes it all the more surprising that as late as 1912 many Irish were committed royalists. When George VI visited Dublin in 1912, crowds lined the streets to cheer and greet him.

Many hopes rested on his shoulders. Many of Dublin's inhabitants lived in desperately poor conditions - in over-crowded tenaments where tuberculosis was rife and claimed many lives. This was a lower standard of living than most English cities provided. In Dublin, the King's loyal subjects believed that once he saw the conditions they lived in, immediate improvements would result. This didn't happen - and the disappointed expectations of Dubliners perhaps contributed to the later movement for Irish independence.

By 1911 there was an escaltating rift between Irish Nationalists who wanted a 'home-rule' parliament in Dublin and Irish Unionists who wanted Ireland to continue to be ruled directly from Westminster. Both groups were talking in increasingly threatening terms, and Ireland looked to be moving towards a Civil War. At the time, George was seen as having solved the 'home-rule' crisis. Unfortunately later events showed that he had not - the War of Independence broke out in 1919 and Ireland was partitioned into Northern Ireland and the Irish Free State in 1921 (it became known as the Irish Republic in 1949, cutting all ties with the British crown).

While Northern Ireland remained in the United Kingdom and has received many visits from British royals over the years, for a long time the relationship between the Irish Republic and the UK has been frosty. Trade wars and disagreements over the position of Northern Ireland contributed to this. Somewhat ironically, the need to resolve the violence in Northern Ireland has led to much greater co-operation between the Irish and British governments and the two heads of state - President Mary McAleese and Queen Elizabeth II are known to have formed something of a personal friendship during President McAleese's visits to Britain.

Places Elizabeth II visited in Ireland

  • Croke Park
  • Garden of Remembrance (comemorates those who died fighting for Irish independence)
  • National War Memorial (commemorates Irish who died fighting for Britain in WWI)
  • Trinity College
  • Guinness storehouse
  • Irish national stud, Kildare
  • Cashel, Co.Tipperary
  • Cork

Story of an Irish Queen's visit to England

Click on the link to read my article on the remarkable meeting of Elizabeth I and Grace O'Malley the pirate queen of Ireland.

Elizabeth II 2011 visit - an historic milestone

Elizabeth II came to the Republic of Ireland 100 years after her grandfather. The visit was full of historical significance - and marked a milestone in British-Irish relations. In the 100 years since George V came to Dublin Ireland has seen a war for independence from Britain, followed by the partition of the island into Northern Ireland (still in UK) and the Irish Free State which became the Republic of Ireland in 1949.

The growth of an Irish nationalism which was firmly anti-British has meant that no British monarch has been invited to visit Ireland until now. For many years there was bitterness in Ireland towards the English crown, as Irish republicanism portrayed the British monarchy as the source of many of Ireland's historic problems.

There are still people living in Ireland today who will have taken offense at the Queen's visit, but most Irish people have moved on. The Queen's visit shows the Republic of Ireland is confident enough in its own identity to receive her visit on equal terms. The Queen is also reaching out to Irish nationalist sentiment - not only is she visiting sites which commemorate Irish contributions to the British army, but also the Garden of Remembrance which commemorates Irish Nationalists who died fighting for Irish independence from the British crown. Most controversial will be her visit to Croke Park - the home of Gaelic sports where British soldiers opened fire on the crowd in 1920 killing 14 civilians.

The British ambassador to Dublin, Julian King, said the invitation symbolised how far the relationship between the two neighbouring countries had come."Our common bonds enable the UK and Ireland to work together as a strong, modern, forward-looking partnership focused on issues that matter to the British and Irish people, such as growth and jobs."

But Gerry Adams said: "As Republicans, Sinn Fein is very aware of the symbolism of a state visit by Queen Elizabeth of England and of the offence it will cause to many Irish citizens.

Despite the fact that most Irish people either welcome the visit, or simply don't care, a very small minority are violently opposed to British involvement in Ireland and they could pose a significant security risk. In March 2011 the 'Real IRA' killed a police officer in Northern Ireland. There will be a huge security operation needed to ensure the Queen's safety during the trip.

For more on the security nightmare you can check out this entry in The Guardian's blog:

Related articles on Irish Identity and History

Click on a title to read more on the identity and history of the Irish....

  • Blood of the Irish: exploring where the ancestors of the Irish came from, and how closely related Irish and British are in their DNA.
  • Symbols in Northern Ireland: insight into how symbols are used and perceived in the part of Ireland which has known most conflict in recent years.
  • Irish poets and the conflict in Ireland: how the poets of Ireland have portrayed conflict on the island over the centuries, including the 1916 rising and Northern Ireland's Troubles.

Irish Republican Opposition to the Queen's visit

There is a small minority of people in Ireland who are fiercely, and even violently opposed to the Queen visiting the Republic of Ireland. Irish Republicans as a whole believe the island of Ireland should be completely free from British political control and should not be part of the British royal dominions (the six counties of Northern Ireland continue to be part of the United Kingdom on a par with Scotland and Wales).

Irish Republicans are opposed to the Queen visiting the Republic of Ireland because they perceive the British monarchy as their traditional enemy, particularly in the monarch's role as head of the British Armed forces. In times gone past, the British army has killed both paramilitaries and civilians in Ireland in an attempt to oppose the Irish fight for independence. Although in the south of Ireland those events happened nearly 100 years ago, in Northern Ireland memories are more recent and more raw - innocent civilians were shot dead on the streets by British solidiers in the 1970s, and the communities where these events happened have not forgotten it.

Irish Republicanism tends to draw most of its support from Catholics in Northern Ireland - not least because they continue under British political rule and have not always felt fairly treated within Northern Ireland.Most Irish Republicans have renounced the use of violence as a means to pursue their political goals. And while they may peacefully protest against the Queen's visit, they have no intention of harming her.

However, there are a small group known as 'Dissident Republicans' who refuse to accept the peace agreement in Northern Ireland and who continue to kill people they have classified as enemies to their cause. They have openly threatened the Queen, describing her visit as an insult. These paramilitaries have shown recently that they have the ability to kill and to cause chaos with bomb-alerts. It is because of Dissident Republicans that the Queen's visit to Ireland will be frought with security risk, and will require a major security operation by the Irish police to keep her safe.


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    • profile image


      5 months ago from Olde London Towne

      Interestingly, there is a Regiment of the Irish Guards in Her Majesty's Household Division.

    • profile image


      10 months ago from Olde London Towne

      Sheer perfection ! Our Gracious Queen never puts a foot wrong.

    • profile image


      12 months ago from Olde London Towne

      Cannot think of any body more diplomatic than Her Majesty The Queen.

    • Marie McKeown profile imageAUTHOR

      Marie McKeown 

      7 years ago from Ireland

      Thanks Slightly Bonkers - yes Ireland has had a busy year for hosting heads of state. Things will seem a little quiet after 2011!

    • Slightly Bonkers profile image

      Slightly Bonkers 

      7 years ago from Ireland

      Very interesting article. Not only did we had the Queen this year, also Mr. Barak Obama and the First Lady. Quite a year for Ireland :) I am also happy to find a fellow Irishwoman on Hubpages.... although I am German originally ;)

    • seanorjohn profile image


      8 years ago

      Congrats on the win and a well written hub.I am not a Royalist but agree that the Queen's visit must be good news for the peace process.Voted up

    • Marie McKeown profile imageAUTHOR

      Marie McKeown 

      8 years ago from Ireland

      I agree Literarychimp that it is strange sometimes (speaking as a northerner) that many in the Republic of Ireland idolise the earlier IRA while looking with contempt on the provisional IRA of the later twentieth century. If you want to draw a distinction though I can point out a couple:

      1. The provisionals had a penchant for killing civilians, often with bombs. Their claims to be running a targeted campaign against the security forces ring hollow.

      2. The early IRA could claim to be carrying out the democratic will of the majority of Irish people who had voted for independence. Whatever you think about the creation of Northern Ireland, the majority here continue to perfer to be part of the UK - the recent IRA have only recently taken this into consideration and committed to political persuasion only.

      Just some thoughts - it is a very grey area.

      The hardline republicans may be consistent in their thinking but I don't think this is a good thing - history can only move forward. I for one am glad the relationship between Ireland and |Britain is improving. If Kate wants to totter on over to the Maze, that's fine by me! At least the royals are earning their salaries this week - contributing to the peace process..

    • literarychimp profile image


      8 years ago from Ireland

      I think all it achieves is to highlight our cognitive dissonance about the IRA. We romanticise the IRA of 16&22, sacred heroes her majesty now commemorates by laying a wreath at the memorial garden while simultaneously repelled by the IRA of 81 and 98. And there is not one person in Ireland I have heard articulate the difference for us with any competence! Fact! Who is to say in a distant future we won't see Kate Middelton dallying over in a jade green bag to place a wreath at the newly sacralised Long Kesh? The delinquents throwing missiles and chanting along to jingoistic Wolfe Tones ditties might rightly provoke contempt but at least they are intellectually consistent.

    • profile image

      THAT Mary Ann 

      8 years ago

      Thanks you for this excellent overview for those of us less familiar. I think the Queen is as gracious as her Irish hosts and I wish the fanatics could just get over their ancient differences and come into the 21st century.

      There is so little global support for fueling the ancient "troubles."

    • Marie McKeown profile imageAUTHOR

      Marie McKeown 

      8 years ago from Ireland

      Thanks for your comments Premier KJ. I hope Cashel won't be too much disrupted. My sister teaches at Trinity College and she says their whole exam timetable has been disrupted!

      I didn't know that about Queen Victoria. I was being quite easy on her, mainly to give another point of view because in Ireland we tend to demonise the English and while they have at many times acted scurrilously, sometimes we have been the architects of our own misfortune. RTE had an interesting programme last night - what have the Brits ever done for us? I think its great people on the island are able to ask this question.

    • premierkj profile image


      8 years ago from Republic of Ireland

      Queen Elizabeth is visiting my town of Cashel on Friday. There has been a huge increase in security with police cars patrolling around the clock, where before there was hardly ever a police car to be seen. They have searched man holes and collected all post boxes. They have been to every house asking questions about who lives there and checking police records. The Queen will be driving to a nearby stable and that route has been searched daily for any irregularities. Given that Cashel is such a small place, the resources deployed in Dublin and Cork must be unprecedented. I am looking forward to it as a welcome boost for Cashel and hopefully it goes off without a glitch.

      I read through the hub and I thought your piece on Queen Victoria was a little too generous. While Queen Victoria did donate £2000 of her own money, it is worth noting that she stopped Ottoman Sultan Abdulmecid from donating £10,000 of his own money because she wished to remain the largest personal aid giver, and didn't want to be embarrassed by a larger donation. In the end the Sultan gave £1,000.

    • Ralph Deeds profile image

      Ralph Deeds 

      8 years ago from Birmingham, Michigan

      Well done!

    • TheSloneGal profile image


      8 years ago

      Just an amazing hub I love any thing to do with the royal family and always wanting to know more not sure why they interest me so but it has always been a great interest to me. I thank you so for this hub

    • sweetie1 profile image


      8 years ago from India

      Hi Marie,

      Beautiful hub about history and royal visits of British monarch to Ireland. Did make interesting reading.

    • Marie McKeown profile imageAUTHOR

      Marie McKeown 

      8 years ago from Ireland

      I did my best to be balanced! I also hope it is a sign we are moving forward - I don't think dwelling on the past is going to do anyone any good...

    • Thatguypk profile image


      8 years ago

      A very balanced and informative Hub, Marie.

      As a Northerner now living in the South, I shall be watching the Queen's visit with interest, and with a hope that it will open a new chapter of good will between Britain and Ireland.

    • emilybee profile image


      8 years ago

      Congrats on your win! Great, informative hub!

    • SUSIE42 profile image


      8 years ago

      Very interesting and entertaining, as all of the Royal hubub is.

    • Marie McKeown profile imageAUTHOR

      Marie McKeown 

      8 years ago from Ireland

      I heard a rumour ... don't tell anyone!

    • Sir Cumference profile image

      Sir Cumference 

      8 years ago from England

      What! - There's a royal wedding on as well?

    • Marie McKeown profile imageAUTHOR

      Marie McKeown 

      8 years ago from Ireland

      I don't think its such a big deal in England! You'll probably hear something about it after the royal wedding is over ...

    • profile image

      Sir Cumference 

      8 years ago

      Congratulations on your win Marie. An interesting and well written hub. I didn't even realise QEII was visiting Eire this year. (and I'm English!)

    • Marie McKeown profile imageAUTHOR

      Marie McKeown 

      8 years ago from Ireland

      Diana's story was certainly a sad one - the first time I ever thought that being royal could be a disadvantage. From the outside it looks like an easy life, but Diana showed the perils of modern fame, when your life is no longer your own...

    • K9keystrokes profile image

      India Arnold 

      8 years ago from Northern, California

      I have long been intrigued by the Royal's. I follow any stories about them on a regular basis. I so adored Princes Diana, what a tragic tale. I thoroughly enjoyed your piece here, I will be back for more should write again on the topic.

      A very big Congrats on your well deserved win today!

      Up, awesome and tweetable!


    • Leann Zarah profile image

      Leann Zarah 

      8 years ago

      Congrats, Marie. Truly a great hub. :)

    • Marie McKeown profile imageAUTHOR

      Marie McKeown 

      8 years ago from Ireland

      Thanks for the comments! I was very excited to get staff pick - and surprised. I think whatever your opinion about royalty, it is a real sign that things are changing for the better in the relationship between Ireland and Britain. And that can only be good news for Northern Ireland, where I live, because we are caught between the two!

    • Paradise7 profile image


      8 years ago from Upstate New York

      Very interesting article. I hope the Queen goes in safety and peace. I think her intentions are good.

    • WannaB Writer profile image

      Barbara Radisavljevic 

      8 years ago from Templeton, CA

      This is sure more interesting than any of my British History classes ever were. Congrats on your win!

    • BlissfulWriter profile image


      8 years ago

      I'm following Staff Pick winners in my quest to read good writing. Congrats of getting "staff pick".

    • profile image

      The Tomato Gardener 

      8 years ago

      I am sure the queen will have a ball during her trip to Ireland. Your article taught me some interesting facts that I was not aware of. I have always wanted to take a trip to Ireland, but havn't really had the chance. Hopefully soon!

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 

      8 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Yes, congrats Marie McKeown. This is an interesting history lesson as well as telling us of the Queen's planned visit to Ireland. Up and useful votes!

    • Simone Smith profile image

      Simone Haruko Smith 

      8 years ago from San Francisco

      And congrats to you, Marie McKeown! This Hub won the Day 13 Staff Pick prize in the So You Think You Can Write Online contest! Well done!

    • Simone Smith profile image

      Simone Haruko Smith 

      8 years ago from San Francisco

      Oh my, I had no idea that the Queen is visiting Ireland this year! Well, that's big. This is an excellent Hub- you've managed to summarize some extremely complex international relations in a very palatable manner, and the images and videos are wonderfully complimentary. I've enjoyed the read and learned a couple of things along the way!


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