March 4, 2011 / 6:00 PM / 8 years ago

UK's Queen Elizabeth to make historic Irish visit

LONDON/DUBLIN (Reuters) - Britain’s Queen Elizabeth is to travel to Ireland this year in the first official visit by a British monarch since before the Irish state gained independence from Britain in 1921.

Britain's Queen Elizabeth speaks to school children after her visit to the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon, central England March 4, 2011. REUTERS/Darren Staples

No date or itinerary was given for the state visit, announced on Friday by Buckingham Palace and Irish President Mary McAleese.

The 84-year-old queen will be accompanied by her husband, Prince Philip. The last British monarch to visit Ireland was King George V, who went in 1911.

McAleese’s invitation to the British queen shows a growing maturity in relations between the two countries.

At the time of George V’s visit, Ireland was in the midst of a decades-long campaign to break out of colonial rule that culminated in a bloody uprising in 1916 and a war of independence in 1919-21.

The trip is also a significant step forward for the province of Northern Ireland, where the continuation of British rule led to three decades of violence from the 1960s onward in which more than 3,600 people were killed.

Queen Elizabeth’s cousin Lord Louis Mountbatten was killed in 1979 by an Irish Republican Army (IRA) bomb on his boat in northwest Ireland.

A peace deal in 1998 largely ended the conflict between Catholic groups like the IRA, wanting Northern Ireland to become part of the Irish Republic, and Protestant groups determined to keep the province within the United Kingdom.

Ireland’s outgoing prime minister, Brian Cowen, welcomed the announcement, telling the Irish broadcaster RTE: “It is very important that we develop relations in the 21st century, having overcome the difficulties of the past one.”

But Gerry Adams, president of the Republican party Sinn Fein, the former political wing of the IRA, said the visit was “premature.”

Editing by Kevin Liffey

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