CORK, Ireland (Reuters) - Large crowds cheered Queen Elizabeth for the first time on her historic visit to Ireland on Friday, as police relaxed security for the final day of a bridge-building mission widely seen as a success.
After an arrival marred by bomb scares and a riot by people opposed to Britain’s continuing control of Northern Ireland, police appeared to ease security to allow thousands of people within yards of the monarch for the first time.
She responded with an unscheduled walkabout to shake hands with her well-wishers in the center of Cork, Ireland’s second city. She later boarded the royal plane past an honor guard.
“This will show the world that the past is the past,” said Pamela Hyland, 41, who brought her 9-year-old child to see the queen. “It has taken us decades to achieve peace and this is the icing on the cake.”
Organizers slowly breathed a sigh of relief that the four-day trip, the first by a British monarch to the Republic of Ireland since independence from London in 1921 and a diplomatic high-wire act, had gone off without a hitch.
Daring gestures included the queen laying a wreath to those who died fighting the British crown and visiting the scene of a massacre of 14 people by British forces. In a speech to the nation, she expressed sympathy to those who suffered during hundreds of years of conflict between the two neighbors.
“It has been a stunning success,” said Diarmaid Ferriter, professor of modern Irish history at University College Dublin. “We knew what was going to happen in advance, but it’s not until you see it that you realize the power of the symbolism.”
“It got to people in a way that probably surprised them.”
Several dozen nationalists protested a few hundred yards from the queen, but there was no disorder in Cork, known as the rebel county for its resistance to the partition of Ireland during a civil war that followed independence from Britain.
In the most dramatic gesture by a nationalist politician since the trip began, Sinn Fein’s Mayor of Cashel Mickey Browne shook hands with the queen when she visited the town.
Sinn Fein was the political wing of the now-defunct Irish Republican Army (IRA) which fought a 30-year campaign against British forces in Northern Ireland before agreeing to a peace deal in 1998.
The party has said it believed the queen’s trip to Ireland was premature, but did not hold any significant protests.
Hardline splinter groups held scattered demonstrations of no more than several dozen people.
After a grueling first few days weighed down by centuries of historical baggage, the queen took time to see the sights on Friday, flying to visit the castle and cathedral at the rock of Cashel, one of Ireland’s most celebrated medieval sites.
She then traveled to Cork, where she visited the English Market, Ireland’s oldest working food market, which was founded under British rule in the 18th century.
Outside she was greeted by the largest crowds seen on the trip, with people hanging from lamp posts and a couple even waving union jacks, an extremely rare sight in Ireland.
“I didn’t really see the point at the start, but seeing how well it’s gone, I can see it’s a step forward,” said Ger Eagan, a 24-year-old Cork music student. “It won’t change the hardliners, but it sends a signal to everyone else that we have moved on.”
Editing by Carmel Crimmins