DUBLIN – Sometimes words aren’t necessary. That was the case Tuesday when Queen Elizabeth II placed a wreath in Dublin’s Garden of Remembrance to honor the Irish rebels who lost their lives fighting for freedom – from Britain.
The queen became the first British monarch to set foot in Dublin for a century. Her four-day visit is designed to show that the bitter enmity of Ireland’s war of independence 90 years ago has been replaced by Anglo-Irish friendship, and that peace has become irreversible in the neighboring British territory of Northern Ireland.
The ceremony was simple and direct, its meaning clear. There were no apologies, no acknowledgment of misdeeds, but the presence of the British monarch on ground that is sacred to many Irish was a powerful statement of a desire to start anew.
Helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft patrolled the skies and marksmen kept watch on rooftops during the ceremony for any attempt by Ireland’s most extreme nationalists to disrupt the event.
A few hundred supporters of Irish Republican Army dissident groups did clash with police on the security perimeter a half-mile away, but the trouble didn’t interrupt the queen’s carefully choreographed procession through Dublin.
Later, the dissident IRA protest degenerated into hooliganism along a working-class street of inner-city Dublin. Scores of teenage boys and young men, some masked, threw lit firecrackers, flares and beer bottles at a line of helmeted, shielded riot police.
Police “snatch squads” surged forward occasionally to arrest individual rioters. By nightfall, at least 21 people were in custody. Police said no officers or civilians suffered serious injuries.
But the event marked a successful first day of the queen’s groundbreaking four-day visit to Ireland, a trip aimed at demonstrating that the former foes have reconciled their differences amid strong ties of culture and immigration, common economic interests, and a joint desire to bury the painful past.
Mary Daly, a historian and director of the College of Arts and Celtic Studies at University College Dublin, said the queen’s gesture will be widely understood in Ireland.
“It’s not uncommon for a head of state to lay a wreath at a site of mourning, but in this case you get the British monarch laying a wreath at a memorial garden that remembers many people who took up arms against her ancestors,” she said. “What it reflects is sympathy, recognition of this independent Irish nation, the legitimacy of its cause, and it’s a mark of mutual respect. That’s why it’s very, very important.”