Queen lays wreath during historic Ireland visit

17th May 2011, Comments 0 comments

A sombre Queen Elizabeth II laid a wreath Tuesday at a memorial for the victims of Ireland's independence struggle in a landmark gesture on the first visit by 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.

Wearing white, the queen appeared unperturbed as she stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Irish President Mary McAleese during the wreath-laying ceremony at the Garden of Remembrance in Dublin.

But the hushed atmosphere contrasted with the noisy scenes outside where several hundred republican protesters demonstrated against the queen's visit and burned a British flag.

She is the first British sovereign to visit Ireland since it won independence from Britain in 1922, while the last monarch to come to the country was King George V, the queen's grandfather, in 1911.

The neighbouring states have hailed the visit as a sign of the progress made in Anglo-Irish relations after the hard-won peace in British-ruled Northern Ireland following the 1998 Good Friday accord.

"I think it is an extraordinary moment in Irish history, a phenomenal sign and signal of the success of the peace process and absolutely the right moment for us to welcome (the queen) onto Irish soil," McAleese told RTE television.

A string of security alerts jangled nerves in Dublin, amid a recent rise in violence in Northern Ireland blamed on a dissident republicans who oppose the peace process and want the province to join the Republic.

Irish army bomb disposal experts defused a "viable explosive device" on a bus in Maynooth near 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.

On Monday dissidents also made a coded bomb threat in London, the first outside Northern Ireland for 10 years.

But the queen appeared unperturbed by the security threats, dressed in the emerald green of her hosts and smiling broadly as she arrived with her husband Prince Philip at the Casement Aerodrome southwest of Dublin.

The military airfield is named after Roger Casement, an Irish nationalist executed for treason by the British in 1916.

The royal couple were then whisked through the specially cleared streets of the city with a 33-motorcycle escort to the official residence of McAleese, where they were greeted with a 21-gun salute.

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

Police in high-visibility jackets manned cordons which closed off parts of central Dublin, while access to the queen's itinerary will be heavily restricted.

At the Garden of Remembrance -- one of the most sensitive moments of the trip -- she stood with head bowed during a minute's silence 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.

Outside, protesters torched the flags of Britain and Northern Ireland. They carried banners from various groups, including Sinn Fein, the political wing of the now-defunct Irish Republican Army (IRA), and the hardline republican 32 County Sovereignty Movement.

At Trinity College, however, there were cheers when the royal couple arrived to view the Book of Kells, a ninth century gospel manuscript.

British Prime Minister David Cameron said the queen's trip showed the strong ties with Ireland, which received a loan from London to stave off bankruptcy last year.

"I believe Her Majesty's visit will be the start of something big," said Cameron, who will also visit Ireland this week.

In a further gesture of reconciliation, the queen on Wednesday visits Croke Park stadium, where in 1920 British forces shot dead 14 people.

© 2011 AFP

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