Anglo-Irish relations took a momentous step forward today when the Queen shook hands with Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness - twice.

Symbolically dressed in green and wearing white gloves, the smiling monarch held the hand of the former IRA commander for almost four seconds. They maintained eye contact and chatted throughout.

The first shake took place in private, away from the glare of the media - but the second was public.

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Historic: The handshake took place within Belfast's Lyric theatre

queen Hands of history: The Queen's gloved hand held Mr McGuinness's for four seconds

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Prince Philip can been seen behind the Queen shaking hands with McGuinness


During the second meeting, which is pictured, a "relaxed" Mr McGuinness spoke to the Queen in Irish and told her the words which meant: "Goodbye and God's speed." He told reporters afterwards it was: "very nice".

Prince Philip, who also shook Mr Guinness's hand, appeared to be smiling during the historic moment.

The historic encounter between the pair was unthinkable a little over 10 years ago. Even last night there was violence in Belfast as petrol bombs were thrown at police.

Mr McGuinness was a senior member of the IRA when it killed the Queen's cousin Lord Mountbatten in a bomb blast in 1979.

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But the success of the peace process and the Queen's acclaimed visit to the Republic of Ireland last year, when her conciliatory words and gestures won over many critics of the monarchy, paved the way for their meeting.

They met in a room within Belfast's Lyric theatre during an event celebrating the arts in the Republic and Northern Ireland.

It is understood that during the VIPs' initial private meeting, Mr McGuinness welcomed both the Queen and President Higgins in Irish.

The Deputy First Minister is said to have commented briefly on the Queen's visit to Dublin last year, and in particular her comments regarding all the victims of the conflict.

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A Sinn Fein spokesman said: "He emphasised the need to acknowledge the pain of all victims of the conflict and their families."

Mr McGuinness is said to have spoken to the Queen of the significance of her visit, and of the need for it to be built upon in the time ahead.

Sinn Fein said Mr McGuinness told the Queen that their meeting was a "powerful signal that peace-building requires leadership".

lord mountbattenThe coffin of Lord Mountbatten at his funeral in 1979

Northern Ireland Secretary Owen Paterson met Mr McGuinness this morning and added that he was relaxed.
He said the Deputy First Minister greeted the Queen in Irish and their meeting was cordial.
"It had obviously gone very well," he said.

"This will move Northern Ireland on to a whole new plane. After all the trauma of Northern Ireland, everyone is looking forward.

"It is about a shared future, not a shared-out future."

The Queen is the head of Britain's armed forces, seen in the past by Republicans as occupying troops in Northern Ireland.

In a quiet space used by the Lyric for creative learning, the two met and were joined by the Duke of Edinburgh, Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson, Irish President Michael D Higgins and his wife Sabina.

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Turning her back: The Queen moves on from the moment

The McGrath Suite - named in honour of benefactor Harvey McGrath, former chairman of British insurer Prudential, and his wife Allison - is usually filled with toddlers enjoying story-telling sessions or drama students taking part in workshops.

But today it was sparsely furnished with leather seating - four chairs and a sofa - set around a circular wooden table decorated with flowers, with tea, coffee and still and sparkling water on a side table.

The floor-to-ceiling windows looking out on to landscaped gardens and the River Lagan were covered with curtains.

Asked how David Cameron viewed the handshake, the Prime Minister's official spokesman said: "Clearly, there was a visit by Her Majesty to the Republic of Ireland last year. That has taken relations between the two countries to a new level.

"We think it is right that the Queen should meet representatives from all parts of the community."

Former prime minister Tony Blair, who oversaw the Good Friday Agreement, welcomed the Queen's handshake with Mr McGuinness.

"I think it is fantastic that we have come so far," Mr Blair told the Evening Standard.

"The Queen's is a magnificent gesture and thoroughly typical because it must be very difficult for her - it is a sign of how much has changed."

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  • Queen Elizabeth II shakes hands with Peter Sheridan from Co-operation Ireland, left, as Prince Philip, right, meets Deputy First Minister and former IRA commander Martin McGuinness, third left, at the Lyric Theatre in Belfast Wednesday June 27, 2012. Queen Elizabeth II and a former Irish Republican Army commander offered each other the hand of peace Wednesday in a long-awaited encounter symbolizing Northern Ireland's progress in achieving reconciliation after decades of violence. (AP Photo/Paul Faith/Pool)

  • Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, right, admire a gift held by Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson, left, and watched by Deputy First Minister and former IRA commander Martin McGuinness at the Lyric Theatre in Belfast Wednesday June 27, 2012. Queen Elizabeth II and a former Irish Republican Army commander offered each other the hand of peace Wednesday in a long-awaited encounter symbolizing Northern Ireland's progress in achieving reconciliation after decades of violence. (AP Photo/Paul Faith/Pool)

  • Queen Elizabeth II arrives to meet Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson, center, and Deputy First Minister and former IRA commander Martin McGuinness, left, at the Lyric Theatre in Belfast Wednesday June 27, 2012. Queen Elizabeth II and a former Irish Republican Army commander offered each other the hand of peace Wednesday in a long-awaited encounter symbolizing Northern Ireland's progress in achieving reconciliation after decades of violence. (AP Photo/Paul Faith/Pool)

  • Britain's Queen Elizabeth II shakes hands with Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister and former IRA commander Martin McGuinness at the Lyric Theatre in Belfast, Northern Ireland, Wednesday, June 27, 2012. (AP Photo/Paul Faith/pool)

  • Britain's Queen Elizabeth II shakes hands with Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister and former IRA commander Martin McGuinness watched by First minister Peter Robinson, centre, at the Lyric Theatre in Belfast, Northern Ireland, Wednesday, June 27, 2012. (AP Photo/Paul Faith/pool)

  • Britain's Queen Elizabeth II shakes hands with Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister and former IRA commander Martin McGuinness watched by First minister Peter Robinson, centre, at the Lyric Theatre in Belfast, Northern Ireland, Wednesday, June 27, 2012. (AP Photo/Paul Faith/pool)

  • Britain's Queen Elizabeth shakes hands with Northern Ireland's Deputy First Minister and former IRA Commander Martin McGuinness in this image taken from TV in Belfast on Wednesday July 27, 2012. The Queen is visiting Northern Ireland as part of her Diamond Jubilee celebrations. (AP Photo/TV Pool) TV OUT

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  • Would you shake hands with this man?

  • A shake of the hand is worth one with the Bush.

  • I DID shake hands with that man. Bill Clinton offers the hand of peace.

  • No U-turn here. David Cameron extends his charm in the direction of Mr McGuinness.

  • Gordon Brown manages to avoid looking too happy as he exchanges a shake with McGuinness.

  • Denied?

  • Of course not. A smiling Blair seems happy to shake on it.

  • You can take my shake, but you can't take my freedom. Alex Salmond shakes it out.

  • McGuinness (left) and the Democratic Unionist Party's Ian Paisley (right) with European Comission president Jose Manuel Barroso at Stormont, Belfast.

  • The Fourway: A complicated mess of arms, palms and charms as McGuinness, Gordon Brown, Ian Paisley and Bertie Ahern get it on.

  • A classic Threeway: Conor Murphy MLA, Minister for Regional Development along with Minister for Foreign Affairs Dermot Ahern TD and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness after officially opening the new A1N1 Newry Dundalk Link Road

  • McGuinness meets Senan Walsh from Co Killkenny, during a visit to the National Ploughing Championships

  • Irish Presidential candidates Martin McGuinness (right) and David Norris (left) shake hands after their News at One debate.

  • Irish Presidential candidates Sean Gallagher (left) and Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness bump into each other during a visit the National Ploughing Championships in Athy Co Kildare.

  • McGuinness and Gerry Adams (right) arrive for a press conference at the Irish Writers Museum in Dublin

  • McGuinness (right) shakes hands with Northern Ireland's Education Minister John O'Dowd

  • McGuinness greets Kerry fans on their way to the All Ireland football final

  • The Reverend David Latimer (left), a Londonderry Presbyterian Minister with Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness (right) shake hands at the Waterfront Hall in Belfast.

  • McGuinness speaks to Lady Sylvia Hermon as Taoiseach Enda Kenny talks to mourners at the funeral of PSNI Constable Ronan Kerr in Beragh in Co Tyrone.

  • Mrs Sally Brady with deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness (left) and her son, Sinn Fein Assembly member Mickey Brady in Stormont.

  • Rhodri Morgan, (left) greets Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness at the British-Irish council meeting in Swalec Stadium, Cardiff, Wales.

  • McGuinness (left) and First minister Ian Paisley (centre) welcome US Ambassador to Ireland Tom Foley to the USNI Investment Conference at Stormont Parliment in Belfast.

  • McGuinness hands with newly appointed Victims Commissioner, Bertha McDougal. She was introduced along with 3 other commissioners at Stormont.

  • McGuinness arrives at Government Buildings in Dublin for talks with Taoiseach Bertie Ahern.

  • Ian Paisley (centre) and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness (left), welcome Taoiseach Bertie Ahern to the North-South ministerial conference at the City Hotel, Armagh.

  • Ian Paisley (left), and new Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness (right), welcome to Stormont Consul General of the Chinese Embassy in London, Yuansong Jiang (second right) and second Secretary Consul Chinese Embassy Hongmei Liu (second left).

  • McGuinness and Gerry Adams arrive at Stormont Assembly in Belfast.

  • Dermot Ahern with Martin McGuinness (right) of Sinn Fein at the Rathmore shopping centre.

  • McGuiness (C) meets Colin Parry (R) and Wilf Bal at The Tim Parry Johnathan Ball Peace Centre in Warrington. The Parry's 12 year old son Tim was killed by an IRA bomb in Warrington. * town centre in 1993 along with three year old Johnathan Ball.

  • Gerry Adams, left, with Martin McGuinness leaving Castle Buildings, Belfast, after their meeting with Peter Mandelson.

  • Gerry Adams (C) and Martin McGuinness (R) welcome Roelf Meyer, a key figure in the South African peace process, to Castle Buildings in Belfast, for talks on the on the Mitchell review of the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement.