Queen Elizabeth II made her 13th official visit to Northern Ireland on Thursday, an event fueling speculation about when the British monarch might make a historic trip to the neighboring Republic of Ireland. The British government said the queen and her husband, Prince Philip, arrived Wednesday night and stayed at Hillsborough Castle, the queen's official residence in this British territory, which is normally occupied by Secretary of State Peter Hain. Her schedule of events was not made public in advance. Speculation was rife in government and media circles that the queen might meet Irish President Mary McAleese, who also was traveling in Northern Ireland on Thursday.
The British monarch and Irish head of state have met several times in London and on neutral foreign ground, but never before in Northern Ireland, where more than 3,400 people have been killed since 1969 in a conflict between the province's British Protestant majority and Irish Catholic minority.
McAleese, who in 1997 extended a formal invitation to the queen to visit the Irish Republic, said in June, during her most recent meeting in London with the queen, that she hoped that Elizabeth would travel to the country soon.
No British monarch has visited the territory of the modern-day Republic of Ireland since 1911, when Ireland was still part of the United Kingdom. Ireland was partitioned, and Northern Ireland created as a new region of the United Kingdom, in 1921 months before the predominantly Catholic rest of Ireland won independence from Britain following a two-year war of independence, reports the AP. I.L.