Between 1969 and the signing of a deal in 1998, there were almost 3,600 fatalities and over 30,000 injuries. This period saw conflict between those pushing for independence from British authority in Northern Ireland and those fighting to defend and maintain the union with Britain.
The conflict, referred to euphemistically as “the Troubles,” was fierce, acrimonious, and sectarian.
Irish Republican Army (IRA) members, Northern Irish security forces, and pro-British Loyalist armed organizations bombed and fired, killing and injuring people as they converted rural communities and city streets into guerrilla-war battlefields.
For generations of Irish nationalists and republicans, the British Crown and its forces were an enemy responsible for the degradation of centuries of colonial rule in Ireland.
Yet, on Thursday, two Irish soldiers lowered Ireland’s tricolour flag to half-staff at a government building in Dublin to mark the queen’s death. Irish embassies around the world also followed suit and lowered the republic’s flag as a mark of respect.
Ireland’s President Michael D Higgins issued a statement “on behalf of the people of Ireland” expressing heartfelt sympathy.
Former Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams who had headed the party once commonly referred to as the political wing of the IRA retweeted a message of condolence from the republican party’s current leader.
“To the Royal Family and all who mourn the death of Queen Elizabeth, especially Irish Unionists, I extend sincere sympathy,” Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald wrote in a tweet.
“She lived a long, full life. In her lifetime relationships between our countries were changed and changing. I salute her contribution to this transformation.”
The expression of sympathy in Ireland from all quarters demonstrates how Queen Elizabeth achieved something remarkable in the fraught history of the two countries.
In 2011, Elizabeth became the first British monarch to visit the Republic of Ireland since the country fought and gained independence from London almost a century earlier.
During her four-day trip, the queen wore green – the symbolism not lost in a country referred to as the “emerald isle”.
She laid a wreath at a monument dedicated to those who had fought and died for Irish independence from Britain.
She stepped onto the pitch at Dublin’s Croke Park stadium, the home of traditional Irish sport and the scene of a mass killing of 14 people by British forces almost 100 years earlier.
The queen’s visit during which she expressed regret for centuries of conflict between the two countries was a powerful gesture of reconciliation for Britain’s bloody past in Ireland.
Her description of the two countries as “firm friends and equal partners”, and her many other gestures, had the power to reset relations with Britain for more than one generation in Ireland.
“During those memorable few days eleven years ago, the queen did not shy away from the shadows of the past,” President Higgins wrote in his message of condolence.
A year after her visit to Ireland, the queen met and shook the hand of former IRA commander and then-Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland, the late Martin McGuinness, in Belfast.
That handshake was historic.
The IRA had killed the queen’s cousin Lord Louis Mountbatten the last viceroy of India in 1979 when they blew up his fishing boat in Donegal Bay, in the republic’s northwest. Three other relatives of Mountbatten died in the attack.
Thirty years of bloodshed between Irish nationalists, pro-British loyalists, and the British military in British-run Northern Ireland was largely ended by the 1998 peace deal that was brokered by Irish and British leaders.