Queen remembers victims during historic Ireland visit

17th May 2011, Comments 0 comments

Queen Elizabeth II laid a wreath Tuesday to remember the victims of Ireland's struggle for independence from Britain in a landmark gesture on the first visit of a British monarch to the Irish Republic.

The 85-year-old began her historic four-day trip surrounded by Ireland's biggest ever security operation as the discovery of a bomb near Dublin underscored the lingering threat from dissident republicans opposed to the peace process.

Wearing white, the queen stood in silence alongside Irish President Mary McAleese during the wreath-laying ceremony at the Garden of Remembrance in Dublin.

But the sombre atmosphere contrasted with the rowdy scenes outside where several hundred republican protesters, kept hundreds of metres away, demonstrated against the visit and torched a British flag.

Queen Elizabeth is the first British sovereign to visit Ireland since it won independence from Britain in 1922, and the last since George V, the queen's grandfather, in 1911.

The visit has been hailed as a sign of the progress made in Anglo-Irish relations after the hard-won peace in British-ruled Northern Ireland.

"The visit of Queen Elizabeth marks that turning point where we move on from the pages of history to working on a close relationship with two sovereign states," Irish Foreign Minister Eamon Gilmore told reporters.

A string of security alerts jangled nerves in Dublin amid a recent rise in violence in Northern Ireland blamed on a dissident republicans who want the province to join the republic.

Irish army bomb disposal experts defused a "viable explosive device" on a bus in Maynooth outside Dublin overnight after a tip-off from an anonymous caller, officials said.

Around 30 passengers were reportedly evacuated from the bus, which was heading for the capital from western Ireland, after the pipe bomb was found in the luggage compartment.

There were at least seven false alarms including controlled explosions on suspicious packages found on Dublin's light railway system and in a Dublin park.

But the queen appeared unperturbed by the security threats.

Dressed in the emerald green of her hosts and smiling broadly, she arrived with her husband Prince Philip at the Casement Aerodrome, southwest of Dublin, named after an Irish nationalist executed by the British for treason in 1916.

The royal couple were then whisked through the specially cleared streets of Dublin to McAleese's official residence for a ceremonial welcome.

Around 10,000 Irish security forces are being deployed at an estimated cost of 30 million euros ($42 million).

At the Garden of Remembrance -- one of the most sensitive moments of the trip -- the monarch bowed her head at the memorial for those who died fighting for Irish freedom.

The army band played "God Save the Queen" along with the Irish national anthem, something which would have been unthinkable for most of her reign.

Out of sight but just within earshot, republican protesters torched the flags of Britain and Northern Ireland, waved placards, chanted slogans, hurled missiles at police officers and pushed at the barricades holding them back.

"To have the British queen standing in there while six of our counties are still occupied by British troops is an insult," one protester, Joe, 43, who did not want to give his full name, told AFP.

Police made 21 arrests.

Nonetheless British Foreign Secretary William Hague, accompanying the royal couple, said they had been thrilled with their reception.

"The queen has made over 300 overseas visits but this one is particularly special," he told reporters.

"I know that Her Majesty and the Duke of Edinburgh have been not only very much looking forward to this visit, they have been delighted today by the warmth of their welcome from the president and very much indeed from the people of Ireland.

"What has struck me is the number of people who have been out on the streets who have been waving, smiling and cheering."

At Trinity College, the queen was applauded by students and staff as she visited the university, which was founded on a charter from queen Elizabeth I. She stopped to chat to well-wishers and waved to the crowd as she left.

The royal couple viewed the Book of Kells national treasure, a ninth-century gospel manuscript.

© 2011 AFP

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