Elizabeth II begins state visit to Ireland amid protests, security fears

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

File photograph of Elizabeth II.
Image: NASA.
It is 100 years since a British monarch has been in Ireland. Many thought a king or queen would never be welcomed back.

Mark Simpson, BBC reporter

The Garden of Rememberance in Dublin, where Elizabeth laid a wreath commemorating Irish republicans who fought for independence.
Image: Infernalfox.

Elizabeth II has begun the first state visit by a British monarch to Ireland and yesterday laid a wreath at the Garden of Rememberance in Dublin, which commemorates Irish republicans who fought for independence. The tour comes amid protests by republicans and a massive security crackdown—this morning the Irish Army destroyed a pipe bomb on a bus destined for the capital described as "viable".

Mary McAleese, the president of Ireland, greeted Elizabeth—wearing a jade green outfit—and her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh, when she arrived at Aras an Uachtarain after landing at Baldonnel military airbase yesterday morning. The Irish tricolour and the Union flag flew above the home of the president; Elizabeth was welcomed with a flypast and 21 gun salute.

After lunch, she was shown the Book of Kells—an ancient Latin manuscript containing the gospels of the New Testament—at Trinity College. Arriving at the Garden of Remembrance shortly afterwards, she bowed her head stood for a moment of silence after laying a wreath to remember Irish republicans who fought for independence against British rule. The laying of the wreath is seen as a hugely symbolic moment in the first visit to the country by a British monarch since 1911, when George V travelled to Ireland while it was still part of the United Kingdom.

While most of Ireland seems to support the visit by the head of the British monarchy, the military and the Garda have launched the largest security operation in the history of the country amid fears republican dissidents might launch an attack. More than 6,000 police and soldiers have been deployed in Dublin, and much of the city has been closed off. On Monday night, a bomb—described as "viable"—was found in the luggage compartment of a bus in County Kildare. All the passengers were evacuated from the bus and the Irish army later performed a controlled explosion on the device to make it safe. Police in London also warned on Monday they had received a bomb threat, which, according to sources, was from republican dissidents and was written in code.

Hundreds of republican protesters opposed to the peace process clashed with Garda on the streets of Dublin yesterday, throwing cans, bottles and fireworks at police lines. Riot officers fought off demonstrators throwing bricks, and 21 protesters were arrested. "Whatever the turnout the problem in Ireland has not gone away, namely the British presence in the north of our country," Ruarai O'Bradaigh, a prominent republican dissident and a former chief of staff at the IRA, said. "Resistance to that presence just like the presence of the English Queen will continue."

The visit is to last four days, during which time Elizabeth is to visit Croke Park, a football stadium where British forces fired on football supporters in 1920 during the Irish War of Independence, killing 14 players and spectators. She is also to travel to County Tipperary to see the Rock of Cashel and will see the Irish National Stud in County Kildare. Although there have been small demonstrations, journalists in Ireland say the mood is largely supportive of the visit. "It was one small step for the Queen—one huge moment in British-Irish history. It is 100 years since a British monarch has been in Ireland. Many thought a king or queen would never be welcomed back," Mark Simpson, a BBC reporter, said. "Whatever the security concerns, this has been a landmark moment in Dublin. In truth, it's one that most people living in Ireland today thought they would never see."