DUBLIN, IRELAND – Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II and former Irish Republican Army (IRA) commander Martin McGuinness have shaken hands for the first time, in a milestone moment in Anglo-Irish relations.
The Queen met with Northern Ireland’s deputy first minister in south Belfast’s Lyric Theatre on Wednesday. They first shook hands in a private setting with no media present, but later, as the Queen was preparing to leave for the next stop on her two-day diamond jubilee tour of Northern Ireland, the pair shook hands in public, according to The Irish Times.
As they did so, McGuiness wished the Queen “slán agus beannacht,” which means “goodbye and God speed” in the Irish language.
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According to the BBC, the gesture took place at an event celebrating the role of the arts in reconciliation organized by the Cooperation Ireland peacebuilding charity. The private meeting at Lyric Theatre was attended by seven people, including Ireland’s President Michael D Higgins and Northern Ireland’s First Minister Peter Robinson.
Politicians of all stripes praised the Queen and McGuinness for pushing ahead with Wednesday’s meeting, a hugely significant event given Northern Ireland’s troubled past. McGuiness has been accused of being a senior IRA commander when the Queen’s cousin, Earl Mountbatten, was murdered by the group in 1979, although McGuiness claims to have left the IRA by the time of the attack, The Daily Telegraph reported.
The handshake comes 14 years after three decades of violence between pro- and anti-British forces in Northern Ireland came to a halt with the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. About 3,500 people died in the conflict, according to CNN. The Queen's trip to the north comes after a ground-breaking four-day visit to the Republic of Ireland last year.
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