Did Queen’s small talk include a dig at ex-IRA leader?
Only the Queen will ever be able to tell us whether she was getting in a sly dig at a former IRA commander, or just surprised at her own longevity.
For the moment, however, we will just have to make do with her reply when Martin McGuinness asked her how she was.
‘‘I’m still alive,’’ the Queen said, smiling. Given the recent, and somewhat tiring, run of 90th birthday celebrations, she might just have been expressing her astonishment that she is still standing.
After all, as the Queen pointed out to McGuinness, Northern Ireland’s deputy first minister, she has had two birthdays.
But it cannot be entirely ruled out that the Queen was observing how she is still alive and kicking, nearly 40 years after the IRA declared her a legitimate target.
The pair met yesterday at Hillsborough Castle as the Queen began a two-day visit to Northern Ireland with the Duke of Edinburgh.
In footage, McGuinness can be overheard greeting the monarch with the words ‘‘Are you well?’’, while the Queen replied with a smile: ‘‘Thank you very much – I’m still alive.’’
The meeting was in contrast to the first time they shook hands, at a cultural event at Belfast’s Lyric theatre in 2012. That first greeting was away from the media spotlight, behind closed doors – but later at the same event, the historic handshake was repeated in public, with McGuinness offering the Queen parting words in Irish, which meant ‘‘Goodbye and God’s speed’’.
The warmth of the meeting was in even sharper contrast to the IRA’s previous dealings with the Queen.
In 1981, two years after the murder of her cousin Lord Mountbatten, the IRA tried to blow up the monarch during a visit to an oil terminal at Sullom Voe in the Shetland Islands. The bomb went off, but was so far away that it caused little disruption to the visit.
At Hillsborough Castle, instead of bombs or history, there was some vintage royal small talk. ‘‘Been quite busy, there’s quite a lot going on,’’ the Queen told McGuinness with exquisite understatement.
The politician could only agree: ‘‘There’s a lot of things happening at the moment.’’ With another smile, the Queen said: ‘‘I’ve had two birthdays.’’
Afterwards, the two sides refused to say whether the United Kingdom’s departure from the EU was discussed in their private meetings.
As part of her tour of the north coast, the Queen also visited the famous stones of the Giant’s Causeway in County Antrim.
In the nearby village of Bushmills, the Queen unveiled a statue to Robert Quigg, who was awarded the Victoria Cross for his bravery during the Battle of the Somme in 1916, when he rescued seven soldiers from no-man’s land. In 1953, he was introduced to the new Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh when they visited Coleraine in County Londonderry as part of the coronation tour.
The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh travel by steam train from Coleraine to Bellarena during their two-day visit to Northern Ireland.