Significant gesture to be remembered by history

IT MAY go down in the history books as having finally drawn a line under centuries of animosity between two neighbouring nations.

The queen herself, laying a wreath to those who died in a bitter struggle for freedom against forces that represented her royal blood line was a gesture way beyond any government apology.

But despite all the symbolism it was all over in less than 12 minutes.

Inside the partially sunken city centre park — a hallowed shrine to Irish republicanism and rebellion — only the few were allowed to witness the monarch pay her respects.

All around were symbols evoking Ireland’s ancient warriors and its pre-colonial past.

No more than two dozen dignitaries filed in earlier past Celtic and religious icons to sit under the steps leading up to the Children of Lir sculpture.

They included former taoisigh Albert Reynolds, Bertie Ahern and Brian Cowen, who have all been credited with leading roles in the peace process in the North that effectively cleared the way for this truly momentous event. British Foreign Secretary William Hague also attended.

The sculpture was first unveiled in 1971, on the 50th anniversary of the truce between British and Irish forces after the War of Independence.

All around the old Georgian square — renamed after independence from Rutland Square after nationalist leader Charles Stewart Parnell — high-visibility garda jackets mixed with plain clothes detectives.

Neither well-wishers nor protesters were anywhere within sight, although noisy and violent dissident republicans in nearby streets did their level best to try to disrupt the occasion.

On the rooftops and a church spire at the corner of the square were armed marksmen and the force’s elite officers, talking into radios and peering through powerful binoculars.

Overhead a garda helicopter and spotter plane criss-crossed the low, grey sky, adding to a sometimes tense and surreal atmosphere.

Heads turned now and again as the din of distant demonstrators — banging drums, blowing whistles, one or two fireworks — carried into the garden.

Breaking the mood at about 3.22pm, a 29-strong army motorcycle convoy roared into the square, in the shadow of the low-flying chopper, and the queen got out of her official car.

Lunch had allowed a costume change from the earlier jade green outfit into an ivory-coloured dress coat with olive green trim.

Flanked by President Mary McAleese — who had urged this historic visit before she leaves office later this year — and the army chief of staff Sean McCann, the monarch walked along the cruciform water feature towards the steps.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny, Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore and Justice Minister Alan Shatter followed.

An uneasy silence fell again over the garden, with only the hushed whispers of broadcasters, beaming the event live around the world, to be heard.

Within moments the army band struck up, playing God Save The Queen in this, Ireland’s altar to republicanism. There was no doubting the magnitude of the event.

The queen placed a wreath –— ceremonially adjusting the ribbon — under the Children of Lir statue, followed swiftly in the joint gesture by President McAleese.

Hundreds of black balloons, released by republicans opposed to the visit, could be seen passing over the south of the square, near the GPO, where rebel leader Padraig Pearse proclaimed independence in 1916.

One minute’s silence was broken by a muffled drum, then the Last Post was sounded, followed by the raising of the tricolour from half mast.

After the Reveille, Amhrán na bhFiann was played out, and the heads of state walked back out to their waiting cars to be whizzed through sealed-off streets.

It was 3.35pm.

There was no one from the public to ask what it meant to them.

Only time will tell.

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