British queen makes historic peace trip to Ireland
Tuesday, May 17, 2011
DUBLIN (AP) — Sometimes words aren’t necessary. That was the case Tuesday when Queen Elizabeth II placed a wreath in Dublin’s Garden of Remembrance to honor the Irish rebels who lost their lives fighting for freedom — from Britain.
The queen became the first British monarch to set foot in Dublin for a century. Her four-day visit is designed to show that the bitter enmity of Ireland’s war of independence 90 years ago has been replaced by Anglo-Irish friendship, and that peace has become irreversible in the neighboring British territory of Northern Ireland.
The ceremony under threatening steel-gray skies was simple and direct, its meaning clear. There were no apologies, no acknowledgment of misdeeds, but the presence of the British monarch on ground that is sacred to many Irish was a powerful statement of a desire to start anew.
Helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft patrolled the skies and marksmen kept watch on rooftops during the ceremony for any attempt by Ireland’s most extreme nationalists to disrupt the event.
A few hundred supporters of Irish Republican Army dissident groups did clash with police on the security perimeter a half-mile away, but the trouble didn’t interrupt the queen’s carefully choreographed procession through Dublin.
Nor did the dissidents’ efforts overnight to draw attention to themselves by planting a pipe bomb in a bus 15 miles away from Dublin and three hoax devices in the city itself.
Later, the dissident IRA protest degenerated into hooliganism along a working-class street of inner-city Dublin where anti-police sentiment typically runs high.
But the event marked a successful first day of the queen’s groundbreaking four-day visit to Ireland, a trip aimed at demonstrating that the former foes have reconciled their differences amid strong ties of culture and immigration, common economic interests, and a joint desire to bury the painful past.
Mary Daly, a historian and director of the College of Arts and Celtic Studies at University College Dublin, said the queen’s gesture will be widely understood in Ireland.
“It’s not uncommon for a head of state to lay a wreath at a site of mourning, but in this case you get the British monarch laying a wreath at a memorial garden that remembers many people who took up arms against her ancestors,” she said. “What it reflects is sympathy, recognition of this independent Irish nation, the legitimacy of its cause, and it’s a mark of mutual respect. That’s why it’s very, very important.”
The queen arrived 100 years after her grandfather George V visited Dublin when Ireland that was still part of the British Empire. Her visit prompted the most extensive security operation in the history of the Irish republic, with some 8,500 police on the streets to thwart attacks. All leaves were canceled, troops were on standby, and much of central Dublin was off-limits to motorists and pedestrians.
Police scuffled with small groups of anti-British protesters at two spots on the edge of the security perimeter. Many waved placards that read “Britain out of Ireland,” referring to the fact that Northern Ireland remains part of the United Kingdom.
The protesters were outnumbered by several thousand well-wishers hoping to get a glimpse of the queen and her husband, Prince Philip. Crowds clapped and cheered when she left Trinity College after viewing rare books, including the Book of Kells, a celebrated 9th-century gospel manuscript.
The queen tailored her arrival outfit to her destination, stepping off the plane resplendent in a cloak of emerald green and a dress of St. Patrick’s blue. She later changed into an ivory outfit trimmed with green. Both outfits were topped with the fanciful hats that are her trademark.
She had been invited to Ireland by President McAleese, a Belfast-born Catholic who has spent 14 years lobbying the queen to make the journey in the name of peace.