Britain's Queen honours Irish war dead

AFP , Wednesday 18 May 2011

Queen Elizabeth honours the long-forgotten Irish who fought under England's flag during WWI by laying a wreath at their memorial, gingerly touching a wound that some feel hasn’t healed yet

Elizabeth II

Queen Elizabeth II on Wednesday laid a wreath to remember the 49,400 Irish soldiers killed fighting for Britain in World War I in an emotional ceremony on the second day of her historic visit to Ireland.

The visit to the Irish National War Memorial Garden was another sensitive moment in the first trip to the Republic of Ireland by a British monarch since the country won independence from London 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.

First, in a heavily guarded convoy reflecting the huge security surrounding the four-day visit, the queen travelled to the memorial site at Islandbridge in west Dublin to commemorate Ireland's war dead.

Those who served in the 1914-1918 conflict were forgotten about for decades due to deep unease over them serving in British uniform while Ireland's independence struggle raged.

The soldiers were virtually ignored when they returned from the trenches of France and a national amnesia about the war developed after independence.

They have only begun to be remembered and recognised in the Republic in recent years.

The ceremony was also attended by Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson, but his deputy, Martin McGuinness, a republican whose Sinn Fein party opposes the queen's visit, declined to attend.

The visit to Croke Park, the spiritual home of Gaelic sports and the site of a bloody British reprisal attack in 1920, is another high point of a trip which has confronted centuries of 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 "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 that 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 in Ireland.

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 world-famous stout.

The Queen declined to sup on the black stuff and her husband Prince Philip 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 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."

"But this visit is not so much about the closing of an old chapter, but the opening of a new one," he added.

After the queen arrived on Tuesday, she laid 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.

Ireland has mounted the biggest security operation in its history with 10 thousand police and troops guarding the queen. "People who aren't happy about her visit could cause a bit of trouble," 19-year-old Anna Redmond told AFP in Dublin.

"There was trouble earlier on, people protesting got a bit out of hand. Hopefully nothing bad will happen."

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