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Ireland in huge outpouring of grief for U.S. terror

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DUBLIN — In an outpouring of grief likened to that felt when John Kennedy was assassinated, Ireland mourned Friday for victims of terror in the United States.

The republic of 3.8 million ground almost entirely to a halt for a National Day of Mourning, which Prime Minister Bertie Ahern said came "as near as you can to close a country."

Only a handful of Irish nationals are known to have been among the thousands known or feared killed in Tuesday's suicide attacks in New York and Washington, but with 44 million Americans of Irish ancestry, Ireland feels close kinship to America and a personal sense of loss.

"This is an occasion, this day in particular, where we can remember to say that we have a close relationship and say we were with you in your hour of need," Ahern told reporters after a memorial service.

Pubs, offices, government departments, shops and businesses were closed, buses and trains ran Sunday schedules, sporting events were postponed and a national daily did not publish as tens of thousands of Irish attended memorial services or found other ways to show solidarity for America in its time of crisis.

Ireland, with the rest of Europe, observed a three-minute moment of silence an hour before noon. Outside the main post office on O'Connell Street, hundreds stood silently. A policeman sat still on his horse, his hat off.

Signatures and teddy bears

The display of grief and sympathy had started much earlier as thousands queued at the U.S. Embassy to sign condolence books and leave teddy bears and other mementoes for the dead.

An estimated 15,000 people had signed the books by mid-day, Irish radio reported, and police said 4,000 were still queuing.

At least 3,500 more jammed Dublin's Roman Catholic Pro Cathedral, inside and out, for an ecumenical service conducted by Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox clergy.

"Those of us who were old enough will remember exactly where we were and what we were doing on the occasion of President John F. Kennedy's assassination," the Archbishop of Dublin, Dr. Walton Empey, said, referring to the 1963 killing of the Irish-American president, seen as a national hero in Ireland.

"There is no doubt that for millions of people throughout the world, Tuesday, 11th September, 2001, was a dark day for the people of America and it will remain firmly embedded in our minds until the day we die."

The service broadcast on state television included readings punctuated by two harps and a fiddle playing traditional airs.

Just afterwards, a seven-member trade delegation from Illinois, stranded since the attacks shut down transatlantic flights, sang the U.S. national anthem on the church steps to sustained applause.

"America looms large in the Irish psyche," Foreign Minister Brian Cowen, who attended the service, said. "America was the refuge for generations of Irish people who hadn't the opportunity to obtain a decent quality of life at home."

"That is why we are all united today with the American people in confirming to them that they do not stand alone."