Pool / Reuters
Britain's Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip walk with Ireland's Deputy Prime Minister on arrival at Baldonnel Aerodrome near Dublin, May 17, 2011. Click on the photo to see a full slideshow of the queen's visit to Ireland
By John Yang, NBC News Correspondent
DUBLIN – On the surface, they seem like routine ceremonial gestures by a visiting head of state: A wreath-laying at a national memorial and a visit to a sports stadium.
But when the head of state is the Queen of England, the memorial is to Irish rebels who died at the hands of British forces and the stadium was the site of a notorious killing of Irish civilians by British troops – the original"Bloody Sunday" in Ireland – the events can be transforming.
Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny called it "symbolism beyond words." David Cameron, his British counterpart, said it marked "the closing of an old chapter."
It seems impossible to overstate the effect Queen Elizabeth II's visit – as an invited guest, not a sovereign – is having on the Irish psyche and self-image. It caps centuries of Irish struggles against the English, who invaded in the 12th century, a bloody years-long guerrilla war that finally won Irish independence in 1921 and the ongoing question of uniting Ireland under one, independent flag.
"As a nation, we are happier now that we know that we are proud to be Irish, we are able to bring in the British Monarch, who previously would have been seen as the enemy," said Dublin radio talk show host Jonathan Healy. "We have reached the point in our nation's history that we are comfortable in our own skin. We can bring the monarch of the United Kingdom and still realize that we are an Irish nation."
The massive security surrounding Queen Elizabeth II's history-making visit to Ireland is aimed at countering one main threat: that of the so-called dissident Irish Republicans. NBC's Richard O'Kelly reports.
Irish newspapers reflect that sense. The Independent's front page blared: "Moment of Healing," saying it was a "symbolic act of historic reconciliation." "The Queen Has Arrived … And So Have We," declared a headline in the Evening Herald. The Irish Examiner's lead editorial called the queen's meeting with Irish President Mary McAleese "a meeting of equals, a coming together of the representatives of two neighboring nations in mutual respect, a moment of which the people of Ireland can rightly be proud."
The trip was filled with history from the very start. The Queen's plane landed at an airbase named for Roger Casement, a knighted Anglo-Irish diplomat who was hanged by the British for treason for supporting the Irish rebels during the 1916 Easter Rising.
After the 1998 Good Friday peace agreement ended the decades-long "troubles" in Northern Ireland, those who want a United Ireland with the British gone from the north seem to be a minority. Dissident republican protests drew relatively small though boisterous crowds in Dublin on the first day of the queen's visit.
She arrived on the 37th anniversary of car bombings in Dublin and Monaghan that killed 33 – the deadliest single day of "The Troubles" and one of the rare attacks in the Republic of Ireland. There have long been suspicions that British security forces were complicit.
Security has meant that the queen's motorcade has driven through empty streets – no throngs of waving spectators have been allowed. Only at Trinity College was there a chance for ordinary people to meet her: 250 students, faculty and staff chosen by lottery. According to participants, they made small talk, chatting about hometowns, majors and the like.
While London to Dublin is the equivalent of flying from Philadelphia to Boston, it's something many people didn't think they'd see in their lifetime. NBC's John Yang reports.
On her visit, the queen will also indulge her passion for race horses. On Thursday, she will visit the Irish National Stud, a breeding facility in County Kildare outside Dublin. She'll also reportedly make private visits to two other stables: the famed Coolmore Stud, the world's biggest thoroughbred breeding operation, and the Aga Khan's Gilltown stables.
One light moment came Wednesday morning when the queen and Prince Philip visited the Guinness brewery. The "Master Brewer" demonstrated how to pour the "perfect pint" (it's a double pour, first holding the glass at an angle, then letting it settle before filling the glass with a domed head) and then placed the glass before the Queen on the bar.
In the press filing center across town, reporters watched a live video feed. A chant rose up: "Drink! Drink! Drink!" It being 11 a.m., the queen smiled politely, turned her back and walked away, to reporters' disappointed groans.
But then Prince Philip moved in, chatting with the Master Brewer and seeming to eye the glass of "the black stuff." But he, too, turned away to join his wife, much to the disappointment of the reporters watching the screens at the press center.
NBC News producer Andy Eckardt contributed to this report.