Many times the Queen has found herself at the heart of events that have changed the course of history.But rarely in her 60 years on the throne has there been one so deeply personal as this. Almost 33 years after her cousin, Lord Mountbatten of Burma, was murdered by an IRA bomb as he holidayed with his family, the Queen momentously shook hands with one of the terror group’s former commanders, Martin McGuinness. Not once, but twice.
The gesture of mutual acceptance and acknowledgement was an astonishing act of forgiveness by the 86-year-old monarch who adored her ‘Uncle Dickie’. Her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh, a nephew of Lord Mountbatten, also offered his hand yesterday. Philip was exceptionally close to his uncle and took news of his murder in 1979 hard.
The meeting in Belfast, for so long unthinkable, was a hugely significant step for Mr McGuinness, too. Now Northern Ireland’s deputy first minister, he has faced criticism from hard-line republicans who see the Queen as the face of oppression in their country. Despite the tensions on both sides, their encounter which – after much negotiation – was filmed for posterity, was ‘exceptionally gracious and even warm’ say insiders.