Iconic moment as Queen takes centre stage in Croke Park
Published 18/05/2011 | 15:25
Queen Elizabeth took centre stage at Croke Park today in a historic new act of Anglo-Irish reconciliation.
After laying separate wreaths in memory of the men and women who died fighting for independence, and the 49,000 Irish soldiers killed in the First World War, she toured Dublin’s spectacular sporting arena in the latest engagement of an extraordinary royal State visit.
It was inside the ground in November 1920 where British soldiers shot and killed 14 civilians attending a football match - an atrocity which has lingered in memory ever since, especially on the terracing behind one set of goals where it happened.
Generations of hurt and mistrust created by those deaths were set aside this afternoon as the Queen, dressed in a yellow hat and coat and accompanied by the Duke of Edinburgh, was met at the main entrance by GAA President Christy Cooney.
President Mary McAleese, who is hosting the visit, was also there along with a party of school children, who lined up on either side wearing the colours of GAA jerseys for each of the 32 counties as well as London and New York.
Security was again tight. A group of dissident republicans protested on a street less than a kilometre away, but a heavy garda presence made sure they were kept well away from the stadium, the spiritual home of hundreds of thousands of GAA fans throughout the world.
The Queen heard about the finer points of hurling and football in the stadium changing rooms where she met players from both codes.
She was particularly interested in the shape of the ash hurley. She asked: "Is it like what they use in shinty?"
At one stage she stood on the touchline at the entrance to the players' tunnel on the Hogan Stand side and watched a video on a huge screen about the history and playing of the games.
The Artane Band, which provides the music at most major GAA sporting events, played a selection of tunes and afterwards the Queen had a look at the Sam Maguire and Liam McCarthy cups.
The Queen met several senior GAA officials, but a number of others stayed away in protest. Of the nine Ulster counties, just one - Down - was represented.
But the GAA president said the visit would underpin and advance the peace process. He was deeply saddened to attend last month, the funeral of a GAA member, PSNI Constable Ronan Kerr.
Mr Cooney said: "I was also very heartened by the utter and united determination of people and political leaders across the island, and across the whole community, to stand together against violence and hatred."
Mr Cooney vowed the GAA would continue to reach out to unionists.
Addressing the Queen he added: "Your presence does honour to our Association, to its special place in Irish life, and to its hundreds of thousands of members. Today will go down in the history of the GAA."