The first British royal to visit Ireland’s historic Croke Park stadium next weekend will be welcome despite hardline republican protests, the Minister for Foreign Affairs Dermot Ahern Minister insisted today.
The Princess Royal will make history when she enters the stadium where 14 civilians were massacred by British troops in 1920.
She is expected to watch the Ireland v Scotland rugby international from the VIP enclosure in the Hogan Stand – named after gaelic footballer Michael Hogan who was among those killed on the day.
Dermot Ahern said Princess Anne, who is patron of the Scottish Rugby Union and regularly attends their matches, will be made to feel welcome.
“Ireland is a very welcoming country, known for extending its hand of friendship to visitors. Princess Anne is very welcome to Croke Park,” a spokesman for the minister said.
“She has very strong connections to Scottish rugby, and like all the other fans she will be welcome on such a wonderful occasion to the wonderful stadium of Croke Park.”
The visit will be seen as another milestone in the peace process, coming almost a year to the day that 'God Save the Queen' was played when Ireland defeated England at their first meeting in the stadium.
As was the case for that historic match, the hardline Republican Sinn Féin party – linked to the Continuity IRA – said it will stage a protest at next Saturday’s game.
The visit by Anne will also be seen as another step towards a first official trip to the Republic by Queen Elizabeth II, which Taoiseach Bertie Ahern has said is inevitable.
But Minister Dermot Ahern played down the significance of the occasion.
“There has been a number of visits by members of the British royal family to Ireland. This is just one other visit,” he said.
Anne has visited Ireland before to see Scotland play at the Lansdowne Road stadium which has been demolished to make way for a new home to Irish rugby.