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Last Updated: Tuesday, 15 April, 2003, 19:28 GMT 20:28 UK
Famine Queen row in Irish port
Shane Harrison
BBC NI Dublin correspondent

The monument has caused division in the seaside town
She may be dead more than 100 years, but dear old Queen Vic is still causing waves in the port town of what was once her most loyal part of southern Ireland.

Indeed, for Irish republicans, the legacy of her visit to the island is as controversial now as her presence was then.

First, a little history lesson.

In 1900, Victoria arrived in what was then called Kingstown but is now known as Dun Laoghaire, 10 miles south of the centre of Dublin.

A century ago it was a unionist island in sea of Irish nationalism.

And so, a year later, the local council commemorated her visit by erecting a dark green iron monument with a golden crown on top, close to the pier.

The monument survived until the 1981 IRA hunger strikes and one night when republicans pulled it down. One of those involved privately admits it was done after a night's drinking.

But more recently the local council, in the spirit of reconciliation associated with the peace process, decided to put up an exact replica of the original.

The monument was finished a few weeks ago and almost immediately Sinn Fein objected.

Queen Victoria's visit is part of our history whether you like it or not
Dun Laoghaire Council
They asked: "Why remember the Famine Queen? Was the golden crown on top of the monument really that big? And, instead of the royal commemoration, what about remembering all those emigrants who left Dun Laoghaire port with dreams of better lives abroad?"

The council duly replied: "Queen Victoria's visit is part of our history whether you like it or not. Yes, the crown was that big. And, yes, we will remember the emigrants with a monument at the pier where they sailed from - but not just yet."

Embarrassment over row

The port area has been largely refurbished with many new buildings and street sculptures. It has a genuine artistic and European feel to it and is about as far away from the famed "dreary steeples of Fermanagh and Tyrone" as is possible.

So, you can imagine the embarrassment caused by the monument row at a time when the people of this very wealthy area are keener to look to the future than dwell on the controversies of the past.

And while a sample of local opinion did show some support for Sinn Fein's position, curiously from people with English accents, an overwhelming majority did not agree with the republican view.

"Let's put the past behind us" and "live and let live" were just some of the views offered.

More objected to some of the other sculptures the council has put up. And some just did not like the particular colour of green on the monument and were not impressed when told it was the colour of the original.

While many people in Dun Laoghaire may agree that this minor dispute over Victorian values like crown and country may seem like empty gesture politics, to others it shows the continuing ability of British symbols to divide - over 80 years since independence.

Victoria may be gone, but her legacy is far from forgotten - at least in one small part of her former empire.

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