Queen shakes hands with ex-IRA leader McGuinness

The Queen and former IRA leader Martin McGuinness shook hands yesterday in a highly symbolic gesture that signalled how far Northern Ireland has come since the Troubles.

The historic handshake with McGuinness, Northern Ireland’s deputy first minister, took place at Belfast’s Lyric Theatre on the last day of the Queen’s two-day visit to Northern Ireland.

Irish President Michael D Higgins and Northern Ireland’s First Minister Peter Robinson were also present at the private meeting.

The Queen’s cousin, Lord Mountbatten, was killed by a bomb blast set up by the IRA in 1979, a time when Mr McGuinness was a senior member in the organisation.

The meeting follows the Queen’s successful visit to the Republic of Ireland last year, which appeared to soften critics after she laid a wreath in Dublin’s Garden of Remembrance that honours republicans who died fighting British rule in Ireland.

When they shook hands for a second time, Mr McGuiness wished the Queen well in Irish, which translates as “Goodbye and God bless”.

Later in the day, the Queen attended a massive party at Stormont to celebrate her Diamond Jubilee.

Around 20,000 people gathered in the grounds to catch a glimpse of the Queen and Prince Philip.