Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 21 October 2014

An unmistakable symbol as Queen Elizabeth lays wreath to Ireland's republican rebels

Queen Elizabeth II accompanied by President Mary McAleese visit the Garden of Remembrance on May 17, 2011 in Dublin, Ireland.
DUBLIN, IRELAND - MAY 17: Queen Elizabeth II and President Mary McAleese lay a wreaths at the Garden of Remembrance on May 17, 2011 in Dublin, Ireland. The Duke and Queen's visit is the first by a monarch since 1911. An unprecedented security operation is taking place with much of the centre of Dublin turning into a car free zone. Republican dissident groups have made it clear they are intent on disrupting proceedings. (Photo by Irish Government - Pool/Getty Images)
2/6/1953. Bishops pay homage to Queen Elizabeth II, at her coronation.


DESPITE the hassle, and expense, in that one moment it was all worth it.

It was an extraordinary moment that had been 100 years in the making.

An unmistakable gesture that went far beyond words — and meant all the more for it.

Those waiting for an official apology from the Queen in the symbolically spectacular cathedral of Croke Park today were always liable to have their hopes dashed by protocol.

It simply could not be managed, say those in tune with royal etiquette.

Instead, what happened yesterday was something more discreet but arguably more concrete, when the Queen took herself to the spot where many leaders of the 1916 Rising were held overnight before being taken to Kilmainham.

The Garden of Remembrance was dedicated in 1966 by Eamon de Valera to the memory of “all those who gave their lives in the cause of Irish freedom”.

A peaceful and perhaps somewhat grubby park in the north of Dublin's inner city, it is now the prominent focal point of many protest marches on their way to the Dail.

As a pit-stop, it was “a standard element of a state visit”, officials from the Department of Foreign Affairs insisted yesterday, but the playing of God Save the Queen at a site dedicated to those who fought against centuries of British rule was something many people never thought they would see.

It was a huge statement, symbolising the normalisation of relations between two neighbouring countries and former foes.

And, of course, it cements the success of the peace process.

Aside from a few faces peeking from the windows of the Dublin Writers Museum and the Hugh Lane Gallery, there were no members of the public in sight.

The north of the city was in lockdown mode — practically martial law — and the authorities were clearly of the view that anything else was a risk not worth taking.

A triumvirate of former Irish prime ministers arrived — Bertie Ahern, Brian Cowen and Albert Reynolds.

At three o'clock, whoops and cheers went up from Parnell Street and members of the Press cocked their heads, wondering — friends or foes?

The Royal Range Rover pulled up at the entrance and the Queen and Prince Philip disembarked.

She had changed into a new, fancier outfit than her green landing ensemble — an ivory dress and coat of Swiss wool, interwoven with silver and gold threads, trimmed with olive-green flowers and a matching hat.

President Mary McAleese had followed suit, exchanging her earlier pink for a more sober black dress and coat, trimmed with white piping.

Behind, Martin McAleese and Prince Philip chatted happily.

By now, cries of protest could clearly be heard in the background and the British and foreign Press nodded grimly — they had thought so.

Almost alone, it seemed, the Queen stood in front of the mournful sculpture of the Children of Lir which represents the Irish war dead, looking up as the British national anthem was played out by the combined military band.

Then she took a laurel wreath handed to her by two military police. She adjusted the ribbon and stood back. Then she bowed her head.

Moments later, the same gesture was made by President McAleese, who placed a second wreath on the stand.

A fleet of black balloons drifted almost, but not quite, overhead, released in a gesture by the Irish Anti-War Movement in a silent but highly visible protest.

Then the Tricolour was hoisted aloft to flutter in the breeze and every Irish person in the garden stood a little straighter as their National Anthem sounded out.

If there was one moment to sum up the whole visit, this, surely, was it.

Despite the rows, the cost and the noses out of joint, it somehow seemed to be worth it.

Stopped on the way out, Bertie Ahern told how he sat next to Her Majesty at a banquet after the Good Friday Agreement and she had told him that she had been everywhere in the world “twice” but that she would “like to set foot in the Republic of Ireland”.

That wish was fulfilled yesterday.

No wonder the Queen was beaming.

Background

The Garden of Remembrance was opened in 1966 on the 50th anniversary of the Easter Rising. It is dedicated to “the memory of all those who gave their lives in the cause of Irish freedom”. The laying of a wreath in the Garden is an element in all State visits. The sculpture, inspired by the legend of the Children of Lir and the WB Yeats poem, Easter 1916, was unveiled in 1971.

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