Queen tours Irish racing centre as visit's tone lightens
Queen Elizabeth II indulged in her passion for horses on Thursday as her historic visit to Ireland turned to lighter issues after two days heavy in reconciliation and symbolism.
The queen was shown around the National Stud in Kildare, the heart of Ireland's rich tradition of racehorse breeding, and was later to be treated to a celebration of Irish singing and dancing.
The visit came after the queen expressed regret and "deep sympathy" to the victims of Britain and Ireland's turbulent shared history in the only speech of the four-day visit.
Although the queen stopped short of a full apology for Britain's actions when it ruled Ireland, she said it was "impossible to ignore the weight of history" and those who lost their lives could never be forgotten.
Speaking at a banquet Wednesday in Dublin Castle, the former seat of British colonial power, she said: "With the benefit of historical hindsight we can all see things which we would wish had been done differently or not at all."
The queen's words added to the theme of reconciliation in the first visit by a British monarch to Ireland since it gained independence in 1922.
Earlier in the visit, she laid wreaths for the victims of Ireland's independence struggle and to Irish soldiers who died fighting for Britain, and visited Croke Park, the site of a massacre by British troops in 1920.
"It is a sad and regrettable reality that through history our islands have experienced more than their fair share of heartache, turbulence and loss," the queen said in her keynote speech.
"These events have touched us all, many of us personally, and are a painful legacy. We can never forget those who have died or been injured, and their families."
That passage was viewed as a reference to the 1979 murder in Ireland of Earl Mountbatten, the uncle of the queen's husband Prince Philip, in an attack carried out by the IRA at the height of its fight against British rule of Northern Ireland.
The queen added: "To all those who have suffered as a consequence of our troubled past I extend my sincere thoughts and deep sympathy."
British newspapers hailed the speech, with The Times saying it would "help to define Anglo-Irish relations for years to come", and said it came "as close as anyone could have dared hope to apologising".
Irish commentators have praised the symbolism and significance of the wreath-laying ceremonies earlier in the visit -- events that would have been unthinkable until recently.
As the queen is a non-political figure with little formal power over her governments, it is not properly within her role to deliver apologies, but her remarks were effectively as close as she could go.
The banquet came after the queen visited Dublin's Croke Park stadium, where British forces killed 14 people in 1920 in a reprisal attack as Ireland's independence struggle raged.
For many Irish citizens, pictures of the British monarch at such a bastion of Irish freedom were the most powerful symbol of reconciliation.
The queen also laid a wreath at the Irish National War Memorial Garden to honour the 49,400 Irish soldiers killed fighting for Britain in World War I.
They were ignored for decades due to deep unease over them serving in British uniform during the independence struggle.
Following two highly-charged days, the queen appeared to enjoy her visit to the National Stud, where she was shown a horse-racing simulator used to train jockeys.
The queen takes a deep interest in horses and still rides at 85.
In the evening, the British embassy was to host its own celebration of the visit.
Some 2,000 guests will be treated to a show of British and Irish fashion, Irish dancing and singing, and readings from key Irish literary works.
Ireland has mounted the biggest security operation in its history with 10,000 police and troops guarding the queen.
© 2011 AFP