Queen honours those who died in the fight for Irish freedom

 

THIS WAS the moment many thought they would never see.

The Queen of England, standing in the Garden of Remembrance, head bowed in a mark of respect for the men and women who fought and died for Irish freedom.

Here, in this revered shrine to republicanism, the strains of God Save the Queen swelled in the quiet of a Dublin afternoon, played with the full blessing of the President of Ireland and the political establishment.

These electrifying minutes signalled the end of a long and very difficult journey, when two neighbouring heads of state finally stood together as equals in a display of friendship and reconciliation.

There was a communal catch in the throat when Queen Elizabeth and President Mary McAleese laid wreaths beneath Oisín Kelly’s evocative sculpture of The Children of Lir. Then a spine-tingling minute’s silence, before buglers played the last post and the Tricolour fluttered to full mast.

Suddenly, as the band broke into a proud rendition of Amhrán na bhFiann, even the cynics confessed to being a little moist of eye.

For it was an extraordinary day.

A day when the power of music and memory and mythology fused and sparked and swept us up in its dignified embrace.

This was a different class of pomp, for a whole set of very complex reasons.

May 17th, 2011. One hundred years on from the last time a British monarch visited our capital city and an age in terms of political history.

Back then, King George V came to Dublin to visit his subjects across the water. Queen Elizabeth II was invited to come.

Not so long ago, such a trip would have been unimaginable, but yesterday, the Republic of Ireland hung out her brightest colours for the Queen of England – a guest of the nation.

The green carpet was rolled out in style, with an Irish welcome on the mat for Her Majesty.

Her jet – flying the royal standard – touched down at Baldonnel just before noon. Tánaiste Éamon Gilmore greeted the distinguished guest as officials from both sides of the Irish Sea munched on their indigestion pills and crossed their fingers.

The Queen scored top marks for her choice of outfit. Her wearing of the green was met with a chorus of approval.

At Áras an Uachtaráin, President Mary McAleese, resplendent in magenta, waited to receive her royal guest. The Union Jack flew above the entrance gates alongside the Tricolour, the EU flag and the presidential colours.

The Queen’s armour-plated Range Rover sped through the deserted city streets to the Áras. Her Majesty, escorted by the President, signed the visitor’s book in front of the Bossi fireplace, which was decorated with a spray of red roses, white lisianthus and blue hydrangea.

She removed one black glove and made confidently for the middle of the page, writing “Elizabeth R” with a flourish and underlining it for good measure.

She gestured to her husband, who fished a pen from his top pocket and wrote “Philip” underneath.

Afterwards, Her Majesty and Her Excellency repaired to the courtyard, where the Army paid its compliments to “Banríon Eilís a Dó”. Then the monarch, as her great-great grandmother Victoria did before her, planted an “upright Irish oak” in the garden. We’re not sure if this was a reference to the species or sobriety of the tree.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny and the luncheon guests pootled across the gravel to join the VIP party.

Enda got stuck into conversation with one of the ladies-in-waiting – Diana, Lady Farnham.

British foreign secretary William Hague was in flying form as he chatted to Éamon Gilmore.

The Queen was all smiles.

The two women and their consorts returned inside for lunch, dining on smoked chicken and boxty, followed by a nice piece of roast turbot.

It was a lovely morning, perhaps best summed up by the plaster centrepiece on the ceiling of the reception room depicting “Time Rescuing Trust from the Assaults of Discord and Envy.” And then, after quick changes of outfits for the President and the Queen, the scene switched to the Garden of Remembrance and that ceremony suffused with symbolism.

Heavy security kept the public away from the action, lending a sterile feel to the proceedings. This was the one discordant note of the day, and it was a pity.

People want to see the Queen and show her a céad míle fáilte.

There was some interaction at Trinity College Dublin, where she was cheered by a crowd in the quadrangle.

GK Chesterton said of the Irish that “all their wars are merry and all their songs are sad.” Not yesterday.

All mood music was merry.