Thousands line Cork streets for Queen's visit

After a tense start to the first State visit to Ireland by a reigning British monarch, the Queen went home with new-found friends in her nearest neighbours.

The distance kept between the public and the Queen during an unprecedented security operation around several contentious stop-offs on the royal tour made it difficult to gauge the mood.

But a sunny send-off in Ireland’s rebel county Cork – with tens of thousands lining the streets to catch a glimpse of the old enemy – left no doubt things had changed utterly.

On a quarter mile stretch of Cork city’s Washington Street, bakers, taxi drivers, teachers, waitresses, students, estate agents and shop workers lined the route for hours to catch a glimpse of the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh.

Hairdressers downed scissors to press their faces against salon windows, others precariously hung out of first and second floor flat windows along the Victorian red brick parade, bedecked in the city’s red and white colours.

“Blood and bandages they call the flag down here,” said one.

They were all ages, some had walked from nearby homes and offices, others had taken hours-long journeys.

Pressed against one of the crowd control barriers was 60-year-old farmer Tim O’Donnell who had taken a day off from tending his cattle in Feenagh, Co Limerick, to witness the occasion.

Dressed in a shirt, tie and jumper, he described himself as a life-long Irish republican, yet he made the 120-mile round trip by bus to get into Cork.

“I won’t be clapping her, but I do want to observe it – this is history,” he said.

If it had happened ten years ago, Mr O’Donnell said he would have turned up protesting.

What changed? The Good Friday Agreement transformed everything but the impact of the Queen’s ground-breaking gesture to all who fought for Ireland’s freedom and her reconciliation speech to Dublin Castle earlier in the week is already tangible.

“I thought at the start she should apologise, but when I thought about it more - well, we have to be reasonable,” said Mr O’Donnell.

“She can’t criticise her own troops.

“Anyway – we got our own back on her, didn’t we. She had to sit through Westlife in Dublin. She’s lucky we didn’t inflict Jedward on her.”

If Dublin was tense and overcast at times, sun-kissed Cork was like a carnival.

School children wore crown-emblazoned T-shirts saying Cork City Welcomes You, thousands gathered around a big screen on the main thoroughfare Patrick Street to watch events unfold, bands banged out jazz and blues on a large outdoor stage.

Teenagers took advantage of sealed off roads to skateboard down the city centre’s usually traffic-choked streets.

While security remained highly visible, the mood was markedly lighter than previous days.

“It was all show up in Dublin, over the top – typical of them,” said one fiercely proud Corkman.

Anne McSweeney, 54, a full-time carer from Bishopstown in Cork, made arrangements for her husband to look after their wheelchair-bound daughter so she could go to see the Queen.

She had been fascinated with the royal family since she was a young girl visiting her three uncles, who were forced to emigrate to England in the 1950s.

“I definitely think there is a new rapport between Ireland and England after this, I really feel it,” she said.

“I’m just disappointed she didn’t get to see more of Ireland. Maybe she’ll come back soon.”

Walking away from all the buzz were Craig Jeffrey, 51, and Steve Hennessy, 52, from Leigh-on-Sea in Essex. They were part of a group of five friends who booked a break in the city before they knew the Queen was visiting.

But they weren’t bothered about sticking around to catch a glimpse, they hadn’t been in Ireland before either and were rushing to get on with their itinerary.

Would the Queen’s trip see more holidaymakers from Britain to Ireland.

“I think so,” said Mr Hennessy. “I’m not much of a royalist – and probably wouldn’t go to see them at home – but my wife Jackie is, and she will see this as a seal of approval.”

Suddenly a wave of cheers flooded down Washington Street, cameras went up in the air flashing and snapping over heads, straining to see the Queen, again dressed in green, behind the back window of her official black Range Rover.

It was over in seconds.

“Well that was worth the wait,” said one middle-aged man who had queued for hours.

As crowd control barriers were lifted out of the way, tides of people flowed down the side-streets off the Grand Parade to be the first into the English Market after the Queen’s visit there.

More cheers went up as the gates to the city’s famous food market were reopened. Everywhere people were telling their tales from the historic visit, cafes advertised traditional English tea specials. A few doors up on Prince’s Street, a large crowd gathered around the window of Murphy’s television repair shop to watch coverage of the royal visitors taking off from Cork airport for home.

Elizabeth O’Connell, 75, from the city, anxiously drummed her pursed lips with her fingers, pushing herself on to her tip toes, to see over the heads in front of her.

“I’m so nervous, I won’t relax now until she’s off safely,” she whispered.

Like a worried neighbour, she waited with many others for nearly half an hour to make sure Ireland’s new friends left happy.

“Thank God,” she said, before heading home to catch up on postponed chores. “We can all relax now.”

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