Queen’s State Visit to Ireland
I’ve spent the past four days on the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh’s historic first visit to Ireland.
With dissident Republican bomb threats and a serious risk of disruption, security was like nothing I have ever seen before. Every morning journalists and photographers were bused from the hotel to a massive press centre in Dublin Castle where they were screened and kept in a ‘security bubble’ for the rest of the day. Taken off to cover engagements and bought back to the castle which acted as a hub which we operated from. It doesn’t take much to keep a load of photographers and journalists happy though and with ample supplies of free chicken pesto sandwiches and rather ropey coffee everyone seemed to be oblivious to the lengthy security screening queues and hours of waiting in between engagements.
The centre of Dublin was turned into a car free zone. In surreal scenes (that weirdly reminded me of the film 28 Days Later) the deserted streets of central Dublin were punctuated by Garda (Irish Police), scattered around in their distinctive luminous jackets, hundreds of them. On the way to the airport for the Queen’s arrival, policemen lined the side of the motorway, some looking a little lonely and all looking more than a little bored; they were stationed on bridges and bypasses and could be seen every kilometre or so. Everywhere we went the press bus received a police motorbike escort – something that I would love to have on a more regular basis in the London traffic!
Later on in the day I photographed the Queen laying a wreath at Ireland’s Garden of Remembrance for the 1916 rebels. This was a significant moment in Irish/English relations – unfortunately for me from my position there were no significant photographs being taken. The frustrating thing about this trip was that due to security there was no flexibility in photographer’s positions and much of the trip was pooled. I was behind the Queen as she laid the wreath thus only giving me a good view of the arrival and departure. Helicopters and spotter planes, snipers and police encircled the memorial gardens as the roar of protestors could be heard in the distance. You certainly got the feeling it was a significant moment in history as the Queen stood side by side with President Mary McAleese.
On the second night the Queen and Duke attended a State Banquet in Dublin Castle. (Oli Scarff from Getty Images News who was also shooting the tour) drew the pool (solo photographer position) so I was on protest watch outside the castle. An uneasy calm had descended on the streets as the police waited to see how the evening would pan out. Down the road two groups of protestors were gathering, both keen to get their point across. It seemed to me many of them were aggressive looking teens in hoodies intent on causing trouble.
Theses protesters were made up of two groups; 32 County Sovereignty and also Eirigi, a republican group. They made their way down to confront the line of officers outside the castle, chanting along the way. Within minutes of the angry protestors were ‘facing off’ with the police fire crackers began to be thrown. After a couple of hours of stone throwing and some fireworks going off the police had made a number of arrests. The protest seemed to lack momentum and had tailed off before the Queen had even begun her speech. Oli had shot some great images of protestors over the last couple of days and unfortunately (or rather fortunately!) my protest didn’t quite live up to the standards of previous.
On the final day of the Queen’s trip to Ireland. I was shooting my only pool of the trip, a visit to the English Market in Cork. After a 5am wake-up-call and three hour drive down to the pretty coastal town the activities of the last few days were beginning to catch up with all of us. However a jovial crowd had turned out in force and as schoolchildren from St Joseph’s in Cork hammered on a traditional Irish Instrument called a ‘Bodhran’ to signify the arrival of the Monarch the sun shone through. The Queen was looking jolly in an Emerald green outfit no doubt chosen or created by her dresser Angela Kelly. She shared animated conversations with stall holders and seemed to especially enjoy her time chatting to fishmonger Pat O’Connell who showed her one of his prize John Dory’s – much to the Queen’s amusement.
At the end of the visit to the market the Queen emerged into the sunshine to spend some time meeting members of the public, they seemed genuinely overwhelmed and grateful that she had come to greet them – it was in effect a historic moment as this was the Queen’s first walk-about with the Irish public – a perfectly normal thing for her to do anywhere else but here the significance was so much greater.
Less than an hour later the Queen was bidding her farewells at the airport and boarding her private flight back to the UK. With the death of Former Irish prime minister Garret FitzGerald last week and Obama’s visit scheduled for early this week it has been a series of emotional highs and lows for the Irish. The Queen’s visit will most certainly live in their collective memory for years to come as a decisive moment in Irish/English relations.