Tuesday’s [May 17] day of protest against the state visit of Elizabeth Windsor began on O’Connell Street when a group of éirígí activists and supporters staged an impromptu sit-down protest beside the Spire monument. As Windsor left Casement Aerodrome, on the outskirts of the city, the chants of ‘Can you hear us loud and clear? British royals not welcome here!’ and ‘Whose streets? Our streets?’ were echoing off the historic GPO.
As more activists arrived with flags and megaphones the face of the Gardaí said it all. Despite the massive security operation that had been put in place it was clear that the voice of Irish republicanism was going to be loudly heard in the centre of Dublin. By the time Gardaí formed a line to prevent further supporters joining the protest there were already thirty people sitting on the ground, with more arriving by the minute.
Within ten minutes of the action starting there were two groups of protesters in place – one on the otherwise deserted central plaza of Dublin’s main thoroughfare and one hemmed behind the police line at the top of Henry Street. With roughly two hours remaining until Windsor’s scheduled arrival on O’Connell Street scores of Gardaí began to forcibly push protesters back down Henry Street.
When that task was completed another large force of Gardaí prepared to move on the activists sitting beside the Spire. In the face of certain arrest and removal from the streets for the duration of the Garden of Remembrance ceremony, the group of activists made their way en bloc to their comrades at the top of Moore Street.
The professionalism of the Garda was to the fore as the various top brass starting issuing contradictory orders to various sections of their yellow-coated goons. So as some Gardaí tried to arrest the protesters others opened the police line to let them onto Henry Street, and yet more started pushing protesters back down the street!
The chaotic scenes continued for roughly five minutes before the now 150-strong group of éirígí activists and supporters made their way to 16 Moore Street for a wreath-laying ceremony. The protest had lasted over half an hour, during which time hundreds of onlookers and dozens of journalists had witnessed both the dignity of the protesters and the aggression of the Gardaí.
At 16 Moore Street éirígí ‘s Ursula Ní Shionnain gave a brief speech prior to the laying of a wreath in memory of all of those who have died for Irish freedom, which was followed by a minute’s silence. With the ceremony complete the large and very loud protest moved onwards towards the Garda line at the corner of Parnell Square. Once there, the entire crowd sat down on the road where they remained for close to two hours in a remarkable demonstration of dignified and disciplined political protest.
Those who found themselves sitting on Parnell Street were an unusual mix of seasoned political activists, school children, university students, workers, the unemployed and those who call the streets of the north inner city home. For almost two hours they sang rebel songs, chanted anti-royal slogans, blew whistles and banged drums – united in their opposition to Windsor and all that she represents.
Despite the oppressive security operation and the ample provocation of Windsor’s presence in the Garden of Remembrance, the ever-swelling crowd did not walk into the trap that the forces of the state had laid for them. Instead they maintained a dignified and disciplined protest which succeeded in its objective.
Footage of the protest was beamed around the world by Sky News and other multi-national news stations. The message was unmistakable – Windsor is not welcome; Britain out of Ireland. In countless radio, television and print interviews éirígí spokespeople hammered home that same message again and again. And when Windsor finally arrived at the Garden of Remembrance the noise of the protest was deafening as hundreds of voices, whistles, drums and air-horns screamed their unmistakable opposition to the British Empire.
Although Windsor, and the apologists that joined her, may not have seen any protesters they most certainly heard them, a fact confirmed by journalists who were in the Garden and those who could hear the protest as far away as Denmark Street. All in all, it was a most unusual and most successful protest – one that sat in perfect harmony with the anti-royal protests of Connolly and Markievicz one hundred years before hand.