In keeping with the historic nature of the British queen’s visit to Ireland – it's the first by a British head of state since Irish independence – Queen Elizabeth II today visited a particularly symbolic shrine of Irish nationhood and culture.
Yesterday Queen Elizabeth laid a wreath at the Garden of Remembrance, Ireland’s official memorial to its republican dead. Today, she made her way to Croke Park Stadium.
Aside from being Ireland’s "field of dreams" and touchstone for Irish culture, the headquarters of the Gaelic Athletic Association (a sporting organization long associated with Irish republicanism), it was also the site of the first Bloody Sunday. The Nov. 21, 1920, event was pivotal in the Irish war of independence, as it saw British police murder 14 civilians in reprisal for the killing of British agents by the IRA.
As she entered today at just after 3 p.m., accompanied by Irish President Mary McAleese, the queen was greeted by 34 children, each wearing shirts representing one of the 32 counties of Ireland, plus the honorary "counties" of London and New York, where the GAA also organizes games.
Although republican voices have objected to the queen’s visit, many in Ireland see the trips to Irish republican shrines as a reconciliatory move. The Irish Times reports that the visit was conducted at the urging of President McAleese, herself born in Northern Ireland.
Today the newspaper opened its editorial pages to British Prime Minister David Cameron, who mused on the choice of destinations the queen has toured.
“The sites being visited this week, including the Garden of Remembrance, Croke Park and the War Memorial Gardens at Islandbridge, show that part of the intention of this trip is to pay respect to those who suffered through the course of our shared history. As the first reigning British monarch to visit these shores for almost a century, it is right and appropriate that the Queen sees those places that still resonate with a difficult past,” wrote Mr. Cameron.
Such was republican sentiment within the GAA that members of the British security forces, including police in Northern Ireland, were banned by the organization from joining GAA teams until 2001. Changes in Northern Ireland as a result of the peace process saw the rule abolished.
Reflecting Ireland’s complex history, today also saw the queen visit the Irish National War Memorial, which commemorates Irish soldiers who died serving in the British Army. "Parity of esteem," a term that came to prominence during the Northern Ireland peace process, underscores the idea that both republican and pro-British traditions in Ireland should be respected, and has been the standard as far as this state occasion has been concerned.
In a pub in Toomevara, in rural County Tipperary (near where President Obama will visit next week), bar staff turned up the television volume when pictures of the visit were shown, though the mood was subdued, not celebratory, and within a few minutes conversations restarted.
As with the visit in general, the absence of the public is striking. Whether or not crowds of Irish citizens would have turned out to greet the queen – and it’s debatable – there was no danger of it happening this time because security concerns have seen the public virtually barred from being anywhere near the royal entourage. It remains to be seen if public opinion will genuinely change or instead follow that most Irish of traditions: ignoring that which it does not like.