The Queen sets foot on Irish soil today for the start of a historic state visit which will herald a new era in relations between Britain and the Republic of Ireland.
Politicians on both side of the Irish Sea have described the four-day event as momentous.
When the Queen, joined by the Duke of Edinburgh, arrives in Dublin she will become the first British monarch to travel to the Republic in 100 years and the first since the nation gained independence from Britain.
An unprecedented security operation, costing an estimated €30m, is in place to safeguard the royal couple, which includes land, air and sea patrols and a ring of steel around the centre of the Irish capital.
Some opposition to the royal visit has been voiced, which comes against a rise in dissident republican violence. But both the British and Irish governments say they hope the official trip will hasten a new and better relationship between the people of Ireland and Britain, built on equality and mutual respect.
British Prime Minister David Cameron will join the Queen tomorrow for part of her trip, highlighting the importance of the visit, and Foreign Secretary William Hague will accompany the royals throughout their stay, as part of normal practice.
President Mary McAleese, interviewed by state broadcaster RTE for a documentary to be screened tonight, said: “I think it is an extraordinary moment in Irish history. A phenomenal sign and signal of the success of the peace process and absolutely the right moment for us to welcome onto Irish soil, Her Majesty the Queen, the head of state of our immediate next-door neighbours, the people with whom we are forging a new future, a future very, very different from the past, on very different terms from the past and I think that visit will send the message that we are, both jurisdictions, determined to make the future a much, much better place.”
Taoiseach Enda Kenny has said the Queen will receive a “warm welcome” from the people of Ireland and that the public would have opportunities to meet her.
The royal tour will take in Dublin and the counties of Cork, Kildare and Tipperary.
In Dublin, the Queen will visit several politically and historically significant sites laden with symbolism such as Croke Park, the scene of a massacre by British troops, and the Garden of Remembrance, which honours those who fought for Irish freedom.
The Queen will also be guest of honour at events at Trinity College, the National War Memorial Gardens in Islandbridge, and the Guinness Storehouse.
Cork and Cashel are also on the agenda, along with a private visit to Coolmore, an international thoroughbred racehorse stud in Tipperary.
The Queen’s grandfather George V was the last reigning monarch to visit the Republic in 1911 when it was still part of Britain.
The bitterness caused by the partition of the island a decade later and the use of the British Army in the North strained relations between the UK and the Republic of Ireland for much of the 20th century.
But the success of the peace process has greatly eased tensions and a visit by the monarch is seen by many as cementing a closer relationship.
Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams stressed his party was still against the royal visit and would host celebrations of republicanism in each city the Queen visits. He described the visit as premature and insensitive.
Anti-war campaigners and left-wing republican group Eirigi, which has one council seat, are planning a series of protests.
The start of the visit falls on the anniversary of atrocities which claimed the greatest loss of life in a single day of the Troubles. Thirty-four men, women and children, including an unborn baby, were killed in no-warning explosions in Dublin and Monaghan on May 17, 1974.
The victims’ families and survivors of a series of bombs have written an open letter to the Queen to mark her arrival in Ireland and will hold their annual wreath-laying ceremony a few hundred yards from where the Queen will commemorate Irish rebels in the Garden of Remembrance.
Justice For The Forgotten has appealed to the monarch to urge Prime Minister Cameron to open secret files which were withheld by the British Government during an inquiry.