- Associated Press - Sunday, May 15, 2011

DUBLIN (AP) — This week’s groundbreaking visit of QueenElizabeth II to Ireland is raising passions and security fears in a nation that traditionally has cast a cold eye on its former master.

It is a trip filled with the symbolism of reconciliation as the queen stresses the need to bury a history of often-bloody confrontation.

Encouraged by the largely successful peace process in Northern Ireland, which has made her sensitive visit feasible, the queen will become the first British monarch to set foot in the Republic of Ireland. When a British sovereign last came, a full century ago, all of Ireland was still part of the United Kingdom.

“She’s doing it for the consolidation of the peace process,” said University of Cambridge historian John Morrill, a specialist in Anglo-Irish relations. “It shows the transformation of relations. It is a demonstration to those who still need to be persuaded that things really have changed.”

The queen’s four-day trip to Dublin, Kildare, Tipperary and Cork comes as a Catholic-Protestant government in the neighboring British territory of Northern Ireland has just been re-elected, marking another peace milestone.

The Irish Republican Army violence of decades past — counting among its victims the queen’s cousin, Lord Louis Mountbatten, killed when the IRA blew up his yacht in 1979 — has given way to the group’s 2005 renunciation of violence. Only small splinter groups still plot bloodshed across the border.

Irish commentator Fintan O'Toole said the queen should have come to the Republic of Ireland at least a decade ago, when Belfast peacemaking was still in the balance, and her intervention might have boosted the momentum toward peace.

“Her trip isn’t actually going to change attitudes. It’s putting a seal on changes that have already happened,” he said.

“There’s been excessive caution about it,” he said of the royal visit, first suggested by Ireland‘s president in 1996. “The authorities are afraid somebody’s going to shoot her. But waiting for a time when nobody in Ireland would want to shoot the queen — that’s never going to happen.”

One of the queen’s first actions Tuesday will be to lay a wreath at a Dublin memorial honoring Ireland‘s rebel dead, a surprisingly direct gesture toward Britain’s opponents in the bloody 1919-21 guerrilla war of independence.

While most Dubliners say the queen should be welcomed in an age of exceptionally strong British-Irish relations, some bitterly speak of unhealed national wounds and predict street clashes.

“She should be coming here to apologize for 800 years of oppression. Instead, we’re all supposed to curtsey and pretend the past never happened. It’s sickening,” said Eunan O’Kelly, an out-of-work carpenter standing outside Dublin’s colonnaded General Post Office, command center for the ill-fated 1916 Easter Rising that inspired the later war. “People fought and died in this building for our independence. Seems they shouldn’t have bothered.”

Dubliner Deirdre Walsh, passing by with shopping bags, grabbed a reporter by the shoulder.

“Don’t be listening to sourpuss there,” she said. “He needs to get a life. This isn’t the 1920s anymore. You’d have to be a terrible hypocrite not to welcome the queen here. We’re best of friends with the Brits. Half of the Irish have lived in Britain at one point or another. We’ve got 99 percent of everything in common.”

Many Britons believe the queen will be received warmly in Ireland despite the presence of a small group of vocal critics.

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