`Dear Diana, very sorry that you are dead,' is a young Dubliner's tribute

 

They came in their thousands, people of all ages and occupations, to pay their last respects to a princess many considered "a friend".

At the British embassy in Ballsbridge, Dublin, yesterday, officials described as "striking" the depth of the grief shown by Irish people as they queued in the sunshine to sign the book of condolences.

Mr Sean Stenson (32) from Dublin was among the first of many who arrived, clutching flowers and cards. He had been in London when he heard the news.

"The sense of shock there was unbelievable," he said. "We went for a meal and Diana was the only topic of conversation. She was such a lovely presence. She said so much just with her eyes."

Mr Paul McDonald (31) from Ringsend said he just wanted to sign the book to pay his respects to "a wonderful woman, so that her children can know all the love she left behind."

Inside, Mr James Tansley of the embassy described how he had been woken up at 3 a.m. on Sunday by a member of the public and told the princess had been involved in an accident.

"I got a tremendous shock," he said. "The widespread grief of the Irish public has been striking."

The embassy is used to receiving inquiries about the royal family. But even the ambassador, Mrs Veronica Sutherland, was surprised by the impact of the princess's death throughout the State.

"I have been extremely touched and very, very moved by the good wishes and sadness that the Irish people have expressed in surprising numbers," she said.

The book of condolences is placed in the reception area. Beside it are a bunch of white lilies and a photograph of Princess Diana wearing a bright blue suit. An embassy employee wept as she refilled the fountain pens with black ink: "She was the epitome of a perfect, lovely lady," she said.

"It is so incredibly tragic and sad," said Ms Alexia Greir (30) from Donnybrook. "It's just like a Greek tragedy."

Mr Joe Casey (37), an accountant from Clonsilla, Dublin, took the morning off work to remember a woman "who seems like a friend of mine". He said, "I feel like there is an empty pit in my stomach now."

When she came downstairs on Sunday morning, said Ms Nicola Dunne (20), a student, her house in Celbridge, Co Kildare, was in silence. "My nine-year-old brother told me Diana is dead. I was just crying and watching TV all day. I felt like I knew her. I'm really going to miss her."

Ms Jacinta Haughey from Glenageary, Co Dublin, brought her two children, Marie (9) and Gerard (6). "I came firstly as a mother, because she had such love for her boys. Secondly, with all the trouble in her life, she overcame her problems in such a beautiful way, she was an inspiration. How can we forget her?"

It was a question many were asking yesterday as they signed their names. They were joined by the Taoiseach, Mr Ahern, the Tanaiste, Ms Harney, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Burke, and the former Minister for Finance, Mr Ruairi Quinn.

The President, Mrs Robinson, sent her secretary to sign on her behalf.

Outside the grey embassy building the Union flag was at half mast. The banks of flowers that have appeared since the news broke early on Sunday morning grew bigger by the hour.

Those waiting in a queue which at one point stretched 500 yards down the road wiped away tears as they read the poignant messages attached to the floral tributes.

One expressed the hope that the princess had finally found happiness with her "Prince Dodi". Another was from Isobel, aged seven, from Monkstown, Co Dublin. In pink crayon she wrote, "Dear Diana, very sorry that you are dead."