British queen makes historic peace trip to Ireland

By Shawn Pogatchnik

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, May 17 2011 12:00 a.m. MDT

Anti-British protestors clash with police in Dublin, Tuesday May 17, 2011, during the visit of Britain's Queen Elizabeth II. The Queen set foot on Irish soil at the start of a historic state visit which will herald a new era in relations between Britain and the Republic. Politicians on both side of the Irish Sea have described the four-day event as momentous.

Tim Hales, Associated Press

DUBLIN — Sometimes words aren't necessary. That was the case Tuesday when Queen Elizabeth II placed a wreath in Dublin's Garden of Remembrance to honor the Irish rebels who lost their lives fighting for freedom — from Britain.

The queen became the first British monarch to set foot in Dublin for a century. Her four-day visit is designed to show that the bitter enmity of Ireland's war of independence 90 years ago has been replaced by Anglo-Irish friendship, and that peace has become irreversible in the neighboring British territory of Northern Ireland.

The ceremony under threatening steel-gray skies was simple and direct, its meaning clear. There were no apologies, no acknowledgment of misdeeds, but the presence of the British monarch on ground that is sacred to many Irish was a powerful statement of a desire to start anew.

Helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft patrolled the skies and marksmen kept watch on rooftops during the ceremony for any attempt by Ireland's most extreme nationalists to disrupt the event.

A few hundred supporters of Irish Republican Army dissident groups did clash with police on the security perimeter, and several were arrested, but the trouble didn't interrupt the queen's carefully choreographed procession through Dublin. Nor did the dissidents' efforts overnight to draw attention to themselves by planting a pipe bomb in a bus 15 miles (25 kilometers) away from Dublin and three hoax devices in the city itself.

As the queen stood in silence alongside Irish President Mary McAleese, a flock of black balloons floated off in the distance, a silent protest by the nationalist Sinn Fein party.

But the event marked a successful first day of the queen's groundbreaking four-day visit to Ireland, a trip aimed at demonstrating that the former foes have reconciled their differences amid strong ties of culture and immigration, common economic interests, and a joint desire to bury the painful past.

Mary Daly, a historian and director of the College of Arts and Celtic Studies at University College Dublin, said the queen's gesture will be widely understood in Ireland.

"It's not uncommon for a head of state to lay a wreath at a site of mourning, but in this case you get the British monarch laying a wreath at a memorial garden that remembers many people who took up arms against her ancestors," she said. "What it reflects is sympathy, recognition of this independent Irish nation, the legitimacy of its cause, and it's a mark of mutual respect. That's why it's very, very important."

The painstakingly choreographed visit has been designed to highlight today's exceptionally strong Anglo-Irish relations and the slow blooming of peace in neighboring Northern Ireland following a three-decade conflict that left 3,700 dead.

The queen arrived 100 years after her grandfather George V visited Dublin when Ireland that was still part of the British Empire. Her visit prompted the most extensive security operation in the history of the Irish republic, with some 8,500 police on the streets to thwart attacks. All leaves were canceled, troops were on standby, and much of central Dublin was off-limits to motorists and pedestrians.

Police scuffled with small groups of anti-British protesters at two spots on the edge of the security perimeter. Many waved placards that read "Britain out of Ireland," referring to the fact that Northern Ireland remains part of the United Kingdom.

At one flashpoint involving about 50 protesters, officers used pepper spray to prevent a few men from breaching security barriers, then police on horseback drove back the crowd.

At the other trouble spot, protesters tried to block Dublin's major thoroughfare, O'Connell Street, but were pushed to the sidewalk by police. No serious injuries were reported.

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