DUBLIN – Undeterred by real and fake bombs, Queen Elizabeth II on Tuesday began the first visit by a British monarch to the Republic of Ireland, a four-day trip to highlight strong Anglo-Irish relations and peace in neighboring Northern Ireland.
The 85-year-old queen, resplendent in an emerald suit and hat and accompanied by husband Prince Philip, was greeted Tuesday by an Irish Army honor guard at a military airstrip outside Dublin. An 8-year-old girl presented her with a floral bouquet.
The queen then boarded a bombproof, bulletproof Range Rover to have lunch with Irish President Mary McAleese, who had lobbied for 14 years for the queen to visit. A 33-motorcycle police escort led the way through the unusually empty streets of Dublin — cleared to ensure that no anti-British extremists could launch an attack.
Hours beforehand, Irish Republican Army dissidents opposed to compromise with Britain tried to undermine the visit with real and hoax bombs. Irish Army experts defused one pipe bomb on a Dublin-bound bus overnight. A second device abandoned near a light-rail station in west Dublin was deemed a hoax Tuesday morning.
No group claimed responsibility for either threat. But several small IRA splinter groups concentrated along the Irish border continue to plot gun and bomb attacks in the British territory of Northern Ireland in hopes of undermining the success of its 1998 peace accord, particularly its stable Catholic-Protestant government.
Irish and British officials were keen to stress that the queen's four-day visit to Dublin, Kildare, Tipperary and Cork would proceed as planned — accompanied by the biggest security operation in the Republic of Ireland's history.
"This is the start of an entirely new beginning for Ireland and Britain," said new Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny. "I really do hope that the welcome she gets will be genuine and memorable for her and her party."
On her first day in Dublin, the queen was visiting Trinity College — founded in 1592 by her royal namesake, Queen Elizabeth I — and laying a wreath at the Garden of Remembrance, a central Dublin memorial that honors two centuries of Ireland's rebel dead.
The latter gesture was to symbolize Britain's reconciliation with Ireland 90 years after a brutal guerrilla war led to independence for the Catholic south of the island.
More than 8,000 police, two-thirds of the entire country's police force, shut down key roads in central Dublin and erected pedestrian barricades for several miles (kilometers). About 1,000 Irish troops were being kept in reserve as potential reinforcements.
Ireland received both the queen's specially armored Range Rover and two massive mobile water cannons from the Northern Ireland police.
For those opposed to the visit, police are making it extremely difficult even to protest within sight of any of the queen's engagements. Onlookers were given few vantage points to see the queen unless they had been included in carefully vetted guest lists. Roads surrounding events were closed even to pedestrians.
But Irish leaders said extreme security measures were necessary to ensure the success of an event that has long been envisaged as the symbolic conclusion to Northern Ireland's peace process.
McAleese said Britain and Ireland were both "determined to make the future a much, much better place."
The queen arrived a full century after her grandfather George V visited an Ireland that was still part of the British Empire.
The two countries spent decades in frosty opposition following Ireland's 1919-21 war of independence and the creation in 1922 of the Irish Free State. The predominantly Protestant territory of Northern Ireland remained in the United Kingdom.
Ireland stayed neutral in World War II and offered condolences to Germany over Adolf Hitler's death. It broke all symbolic ties with Britain by declaring itself a republic in 1949 and offered sympathy and a relatively safe haven when the modern IRA in 1970 began shooting and bombing in Northern Ireland.
But after Britain and Ireland joined the European Union in 1973, and as the bloodshed in Northern Ireland spilled over into the Catholic south, the governments in London and Dublin gradually found common cause.
Their cooperation provided the essential bedrock for Belfast's Good Friday peace accord in 1998. IRA disarmament and a coalition government of the British Protestant majority and Irish Catholic minority eventually followed.
British Prime Minister David Cameron, who will arrive Wednesday in Dublin, said the success of Northern Ireland peacemaking has allowed "the natural friendship, comradeship, shared experiences and warmth that we have for each other (to) really come out." He said the queen's tour of Ireland would "be a huge step forward for that process."
While the Irish remain proud of their independence, many concede they share much with their larger neighbor. Today's Ireland is home to 4.5 million residents who watch British television and newspapers daily, and shop in the British chain stores that dominate every Irish city.
Many follow English and Scottish soccer with passion, traveling by the tens of thousands each weekend by plane and ferry. The English, in turn, have made the Emerald Isle a favored tourist destination.
Ireland's struggle to prevent a national bankruptcy — the Irish have spent three years raising taxes and cutting spending, and six months ago received a potential euro67.5 billion ($95 billion) credit line from international lenders — has found its greatest champion in Britain.
Cameron's government offered a particularly low-interest loan, declared that Ireland's revival was a strategic British interest, and has pressed other EU members to cut the Irish more slack for managing their staggering debts.