Britain's Queen honours Irish war dead

18th May 2011, Comments 0 comments

Queen Elizabeth II Wednesday visited a memorial to the 49,400 Irish soldiers killed fighting for Britain in World War I in a highly-charged ceremony on the second day of her historic visit to Ireland.

The queen laid a wreath at the Irish National War Memorial Garden, another sensitive moment in the first trip to the Republic of Ireland by a British monarch since the country won independence in 1922.

Later she was to visit Croke Park, a Dublin stadium where British troops massacred 14 civilians 91 years ago in what became a landmark in the struggle for independence.

But first the queen travelled to the memorial site at Islandbridge in west Dublin to commemorate Ireland's war dead.

Many feel the men who fell in the 1914-1918 conflict have too often been forgotten because of deep unease over them serving in British uniform while Ireland's independence struggle raged.

The visit to Croke Park, the spiritual home of Gaelic sports and the site of a bloody British reprisal attack in 1920, is another highpoint of a trip which has confronted age-old mistrust between the countries head-on.

Irish Foreign Affairs Minister Eamon Gilmore told AFP that a British monarch walking out on the revered turf, which has a near mythical role in Ireland's independence struggle, would be a "hugely symbolic" moment.

The visit to the 82,300-capacity venue, which will be closed to the public, was "part of the making of a statement about the past", Gilmore said, but would also acknowledge the key role that Gaelic games play in Irish life.

The "Bloody Sunday" of November 21, 1920 saw 14 people killed by British forces when they opened fire on a crowd of thousands of spectators at a Gaelic football game in response to the murder earlier in the day of 14 undercover British agents.

The 85-year-old queen will round off the day by making the only major speech of her four-day trip at Dublin Castle, the former seat of British power on the Emerald Isle.

While noting the vast improvement in Anglo-Irish ties since a 1998 peace deal in British-ruled Northern Ireland, the queen is expected to tackle the tensions that have meant she is the first British monarch to visit the Irish Republic.

A massive security operation is in place for the visit, which both states have hailed as a watershed after centuries of bad blood across the Irish Sea.

Wednesday's itinerary began on a lighter note with a trip to the Guinness brewery, one of the country's top tourist destinations.

Master brewer Fergal Murray took the royal couple through the stages of pouring a perfect pint of the famous stout, one of the world-famous cultural symbols of Ireland.

The Queen declined to sup on the black stuff and her husband lingered as if he might, but eventually the couple moved on.

The royal couple then headed to Government Buildings for a meeting with Prime Minister Enda Kenny. The British flag flew above the Edwardian quadrangle alongside the Irish tricolour in a further symbol of reconciliation.

British Prime Minister David Cameron wrote in The Irish Times that the visit showed the queen was paying respect "to those who suffered through the course of our shared history".

"It is right and appropriate that the Queen sees those places that still resonate with a difficult past. But this visit is not so much about the closing of an old chapter, but the opening of a new one," he added.

But the healing process is a long one after a history of bloodshed since king Henry VIII of England pronounced himself king of Ireland in 1541, sparking half a millennium of repression, rebellion and famine.

The first day of the visit on Tuesday saw the queen lay a wreath in honour of those who died fighting for Irish freedom from Britain, bowing her head in respect at the Garden of Remembrance.

But there were rowdy scenes outside where several hundred republican protesters, kept streets away, chanted and torched a British flag. Twenty people were charged with public order offences.

The threat from republican paramilitaries who oppose the Northern Ireland peace process resurfaced when a pipe bomb was found outside Dublin amid a string of security alerts on Tuesday.

Despite the fanfare around the visit Dublin's streets have been eerily empty due to a security lockdown.

© 2011 AFP

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