Queen reaches out to 'firm friends' in Dublin speech

The Queen delivered messages of both hope and sadness last night when she spoke at a banquet in Dublin during her state visit to Ireland, the first by a reigning British monarch since George V's visit a century ago.

She spoke of a transformation that had taken place in Northern Ireland, saying "a knot of history" had been painstakingly loosened by the British and Irish governments and local parties. Her words, though highly conciliatory, contained no apology for any actions of Britain in Northern Ireland or in the Republic, which it once governed, nor did she use the word "regret".

Earlier this week it had been speculated that something of this kind might be included in her speech, but official sources moved quickly to dampen down any such idea. After two days the visit looks like being a success, with the authorities pulling out all the stops to give a hearty welcome.

The absence of specifics in the speech created a slight air of anti-climax but the Queen's language did suggest generalised regret, in particular when she declared: "With the benefit of historical hindsight we can all see things which we would wish had been done differently or not at all."

She spoke of the complexity of Anglo-Irish history, the importance of conciliation and "of being able to bow to the past but not be bound by it" She described the Irish as "firm friends and equal partners" with whom Britain had established a lasting rapport. Earlier the Queen had visited Croke Park, the Gaelic football field where troops shot dead 14 civilians during a football game in 1920, in the most emotionally charged element of the day.

She was given a warm welcome at the stadium in north Dublin, where only a passing reference was made to the events known as the first Bloody Sunday, when the president of the Gaelic Athletic Association, Christy Cooney, referred to those who had lost their lives, including "those that died in this place". But he gave what was regarded as a handsome welcome to the Queen, saying her presence "does honour to our association".

The Queen also laid a wreath of poppies at the Irish War Memorial Gardens in memory of almost 50,000 Irishmen who fought for the Crown during the First World War. The event was attended by politicians and other figures from Northern Ireland.

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