Queen voices 'deep sympathy' for victims in Ireland

19th May 2011, Comments 0 comments

Queen Elizabeth II extended her "deep sympathy" to the victims of Britain and Ireland's turbulent intertwined history as the two states tried to make her groundbreaking visit a fresh start in Anglo-Irish relations.

The British monarch said it was "impossible to ignore the weight of history", while those who lost their lives could never be forgotten, in the keynote speech of her historic four-day state visit.

"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 told a state banquet Wednesday at Dublin Castle, the former seat of British colonial power.

"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.

"To all those who have suffered as a consequence of our troubled past I extend my sincere thoughts and deep sympathy."

She added: "With the benefit of historical hindsight we can all see things which we would wish had been done differently or not at all."

As the queen is a non-political figure with little de facto 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 and will likely be interpreted as a giant step towards healing old divisions -- all the more so for being delivered after a visiting some of Ireland's most sensitive sites.

Irish President Mary McAleese said the first visit by a British sovereign to the republic since it won independence from London in 1922 was the "culmination of the success of the peace process", building on the 1998 Northern Irish peace accords.

"It is an acknowledgement that while we cannot change the past, we have chosen to change the future," she told her guests.

The banquet came after Queen Elizabeth visited Dublin's Croke Park stadium, where British forces killed 14 people in a 1920 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.

Those who served in the 1914-1918 conflict were ignored for decades due to deep unease in Ireland over them serving in British uniform during the independence struggle.

Queen Elizabeth also visited the Guinness brewery, the country's top tourist destination.

Tuesday saw the queen lay a wreath and bow her head at the memorial to those who died fighting for Irish freedom.

Following the emotion of those events, Thursday's programme was to focus more on culture and fun, with a visit to the National Stud in Kildare, southwest of Dublin.

The queen adores horses and race meets, and is likely to be in her element as she tours the National Stud, which promotes Irish bloodstock and services to breeders.

The queen, who owns several horses and still rides at 85, was to meet with some of the country's top trainers and get up close with the stud's stallions.

Ireland is the third-largest breeder of thoroughbreds in the world.

In the evening, the British embassy was to host its own celebration of the queen's state visit with a bash at the Convention Centre Dublin for some 2,000 invited guests.

They will be treated to a showcasing of British and Irish fashion, Irish performers and Irish actors giving readings from key works in Ireland's literary tradition.

The designers include John Rocha and Victoria Beckham, while the artists include Westlife, the Chieftains, Riverdance and the National Symphony Orchestra.

Ireland has mounted the biggest security operation in its history with 10,000 police and troops guarding the queen, with the public largely kept at a distance due to the threat from dissident republicans violently opposed to the peace process.

Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny said the reaction to the queen's visit had been "exceptionally positive".

A group of tracksuited republican extremists numbering fewer than 100 roamed between the visit sites Wednesday but were prevented from getting anywhere near the royal couple. Police made five arrests.

© 2011 AFP

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