Northern Ireland

Changing face of Dublin Castle

Interior Dublin Castle
Image caption Dublin Castle is used for the inauguration of Irish presidents

The 13th century Dublin Castle, one-time base of British rule in Ireland, is the venue for a state dinner as part of the Queen's four-day visit.

The Queen and Duke of Edinburgh are used to grand surroundings and chances are they won't be disappointed with Dublin Castle.

It is a building that has been at the heart of Irish history for centuries and is now a major draw for the thousands of tourists who visit the Irish capital every day.

Founded in 1204 by King John of England, for more than seven hundred years the castle served as the seat of British rule in Ireland.

However, it hasn't played host to a reigning British monarch since 1911 when the Queen's grandfather, King George V, came to these shores.

With the partition of Ireland, the signing of the Anglo Irish Treaty in December 1921 and the creation of the Free State - Britain's role as colonial master came to an end. Dublin Castle played an important part in this transition to Irish statehood.

Professor Mary Daly, a historian at University College Dublin, said it was the setting for a symbolic handover between Michael Collins, then chairman of the provisional government and British representatives.

"About three weeks after the ratification of the treaty, Collins and his fellow ministers went to Dublin Castle to take over power," Professor Daly said.

"Some of the senior British officials remarked on how young they looked and, of course, there was the infamous conversation between the two parties.

Image caption Dublin Castle general manager George Moir supervised preparations for the visit

"The British said the Irish group was seven minutes late and Michael Collins replied that they (the British) were seven hundred years late in leaving."

With its British and regal status all but gone, Dublin Castle became less significant. It was no longer used for government purposes although it did become a temporary home for the Four Courts which were badly damaged during the Irish Civil war.

In later years it was used for state ceremonies and every Irish president - since 1938 - has been inaugurated in St Patrick's Hall, the most decorative room in Dublin Castle with regal artwork and chandeliers galore.

It is there where the Irish President Mary McAleese will host a state dinner for the Queen and Prince Philip, with the Prime Minister David Cameron and the Taoiseach Enda Kenny among the 160 guests.

George Moir, the castle's general manager, said it has been a busy time preparing for the visit.

"Apart from the normal spring cleaning, we've re-painted parts of the castle and we've re-hung some of the artworks," he said.

Mr Moir also hopes the royal couple will get time in their busy schedule to have a proper look around.

"I think they will enjoy the castle from the staircase up the drawing room, the state corridor and St Patrick's Hall.

"Unfortunately I don't think they will have time to see the state apartments or George's Hall, which was built for the last royal visit, but maybe another time."

In the castle's Royal Chapel head tour guide, Cormac Molloy, tries to keep his mind on the job, sharing historical facts with a steady stream of tourists. Like other staff, he is excited about the visit and the significance it holds.

"There is an air of anticipation at this stage," Mr Molloy said.

"We have had many guests here over the years, but it is quite unique to have the head of the British monarchy visit.

"I think people are interested and hopefully I might get a sneaky look at the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh when they arrive."

The Throne Room in Dublin Castle is the most obvious remnant of its royal past - a throne on which many British monarchs have sat.

But, for so long, these majestic surroundings and the link with British rule served as a reminder of the division and mistrust that existed between Ireland and its dominant neighbour.

When the Queen takes her place for the state banquet, it is hoped the occasion - and the rest of the royal trip - will mark a new and positive chapter in Anglo Irish relations.