'As unexpected as it was powerful': The moment the Queen broke protocol in Ireland

·Royal Correspondent
·4 min read
DUBLIN, IRELAND - MAY 17: Queen Elizabeth II and President Mary McAleese lay a wreaths at the Garden of Remembrance on May 17, 2011 in Dublin, Ireland. The Duke and Queen's visit is the first by a monarch since 1911. An unprecedented security operation is taking place with much of the centre of Dublin turning into a car free zone. Republican dissident groups have made it clear they are intent on disrupting proceedings.  (Photo by Irish Government - Pool/Getty Images)
The Queen and then-President Mary McAleese lay wreaths at the Garden of Remembrance in 2011. (Irish Government - Pool/Getty Images)

The Queen delivered a powerful but unexpected message when she broke protocol during her historic trip to Ireland in 2011, according to one of its former leaders.

Mary McAleese, who was president of Ireland from 1997 to 2011, has revealed the moment that took her by surprise during the Queen's trip to the Republic.

Speaking in her book, McAleese said she pushed for the Queen's first visit to be to the Garden of Remembrance in Dublin, which is dedicated to all those who gave their lives fighting for Irish freedom.

McAleese said: "The first public event was to the garden of remembrance. The brief ceremony was solemn and formal. The Queen placed the wreath, then took a pace back, as per the protocol.

"And then, did something as unexpected as it was powerful, and definitely not per the protocol.

"She bowed her head in respectful homage. it was an unadorned gesture and there was no mistaking the message.

"All over Ireland, people stirred. Could this really have happened?"

DUBLIN, IRELAND - MAY 17: Queen Elizabeth II lays a wreath at the Garden of Remembrance on May 17, 2011 in Dublin, Ireland. The Duke and Queen's visit is the first by a monarch since 1911. An unprecedented security operation is taking place with much of the centre of Dublin turning into a car free zone. Republican dissident groups have made it clear they are intent on disrupting proceedings.  (Photo by Irish Government - Pool/Getty Images)
Mary McAleese said the Queen's wreath laying was following protocol but then bowed her head, which she did not expect. (Irish Government - Pool/Getty Images)
Britain's Queen Elizabeth II (L) and Prince Philip,The Duke of Edinburgh visit the Guinness Storehouse Gravity Bar in Dublin, on the second day of the Queen's four-day visit to Ireland, on May 18, 2011.Queen Elizabeth and her husband Prince Philip resisted the temptation to sup the perfect pint of Guinness on a visit to the Irish cultural icon's home brewery on Wednesday.  AFP PHOTO / Maxwells / POOL (Photo by Maxwells / POOL / AFP) (Photo by MAXWELLS/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
The Queen and Prince Philip also visited the Guinness Storehouse Gravity Bar in Dublin, in May 2011. (Maxwells/AFP)

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The Queen and Prince Philip's visit to Ireland was the first visit by a reigning monarch to the Republic of Ireland.

It was 1911 when a monarch had last been in Dublin, and the trip was of huge significance. In 1911, the whole island of Ireland was part of the United Kingdom. 

McAleese said she realised the Queen was committed to the state occasion when the palace confirmed four days in her diary, despite many of her engagements being set in stone for years.

The former president also revealed the Queen spoke five words of Ulster Irish during her trip, despite her private secretary's reluctance to have her commit to the tricky language.

McAleese said she had advised Edward Young that using some Irish would help the visit go from being good to great, but that Young had said the Queen would be nervous about getting anything wrong.

However, Francis Campbell, who was the British deputy high commissioner to Pakistan at the time, dropped in on McAleese for lunch one day, and asked her for five words, spelt phonetically, because he was meeting "a friend" who needed them.

McAleese relented, saying the words - A Uachtaráin, agus a chairde (president and friends) - were only for Young and not for the Queen's eyes, and wrote them on a scrap of paper.

Britain's Queen Elizabeth II after giving a speech at Dublin Castle toasts with Irish President Mary McAleese (right) during a State Dinner on the second day of her State Visit to Ireland.   (Photo by John Stillwell/PA Images via Getty Images)
The Queen spoke a few words of Ulster Irish in a speech at Dublin Castle. Here with then-Irish president Mary McAleese (right). (PA Images via Getty Images)
(Left - right) President of the Irish Republic Mary McAleese, Queen Elizabeth II and GAA President Christy Cooney at Croke Park, Dublin, during the second day of her State Visit to Ireland.Picture date: Wednesday May 18, 2011. See PA story IRISH Queen.   (Photo by Julien Behal/PA Images via Getty Images)
(Left - right) Mary McAleese, the Queen and GAA President Christy Cooney at Croke Park, Dublin, another significant location on her trip because of the shooting of 1920 of football spectators by British soldiers. (PA Images via Getty Images)

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But at the state dinner, the Queen opened with the words, leaving McAleese "stunned into muttering a lame 'wow'".

She said: "I looked across at Edward Young sitting at the next table. He gave me a long, laughing wink."

The Queen wore many green outfits during her trip to Ireland in 2011, made with Irish fabric sourced beforehand by her dresser Angela Kelly.

The trip included a visit to Croke Park, the home of Gaelic football and where 14 people were killed by British forces during a match in 1920, and the Guinness storehouse.

Since then, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have made visits to Ireland, with the Cambridges going in March 2020, before the coronavirus lockdowns.

Here's the Story by Mary McAleese is available now.

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