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Dublin: 10 °C Wednesday 22 May, 2019
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Here's everything that's happened so far on Michael D's historic State visit to the UK

A busy day for President Higgins and his wife on their historic visit to the UK. Here’s a handy and comprehensive round-up of what’s been happening.

Queen Elizabeth and Michael D Higgins in Windsor Palace earlier today
Queen Elizabeth and Michael D Higgins in Windsor Palace earlier today
Image: Chris Bellew/Fennell Photography

Updated 23:05pm 

A SLEEPY SOUTHERN English town played host to a moment of great significance in Anglo-Irish relations this morning and kick-started a historic few days.

Day one of President Michael D Higgins’s State visit to the UK concluded, at least publicly, with an address to a State banquet in Windsor Castle tonight.

But already today he met the Queen and Prince Philip at Windsor, paid tribute to her cousin who was a victim of an IRA bomb, and made a historic addresses to MPs and Peers in Westminster – the first Irish head of State to make such a speech.

It’s been a day of ceremony and symbolism and here’s everything that has happened so far… 

Meeting Charles and Camilla

The President and his wife Sabina arrived at the Irish Embassy at Grosvenor Place in central London just after 10am, accompanied by the Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore and his wife Carol Hanney.

The delegation were greeted by Ambassador Daniel Mulhall and his wife, Greta, before they were brought to meet Prince Charles and his wife Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall.

Irish State Visit - Embassy of Ireland, Source: Malcolm McNally

After some handshakes and small talk, the Prince and the Duchess along with the President and Sabina then departed in a motorcade bound for Windsor Castle.

Though this visit has gone largely under the radar of both the British public and large sections of its media, there was a small protest across the street from the embassy by seven pro-choice campaigners who chanted slogans in favour of legalised abortion in Ireland.

Windsor 

Windsor, a historic and picturesque town, began filling up with people waving Union Jacks and Tricolours from around 9am this morning with thousands lining the streets awaiting a glimpse of the President and the Queen.

It’s estimated that some 7,000 people attended today’s event – one of the largest gatherings of its kind in Windsor, according to local police.

Despite this, some were puzzled by all the fuss, a passerby asking: “What’s happening here today?”

Thankfully, the town crier was on hand to tell us what it was all about:

Source: Hugh O'Connell/YouTube

But the big show was on Datchet Road where the Household Division of the Army provided a spectacular demonstration, lining up neatly along the road in front of the Royal Dais.

Horses and cavalrymen were resplendent in their plumed helmets and silver breastplates and provided music and a royal gun salute as the President, his wife and the rest of the Irish delegation arrived.

There were handshakes and warm greetings before the cavalry gave a royal salute and played a stirring rendition of the Irish national anthem:

Source: Hugh O'Connell/YouTube

Then it was into the waiting carriages and off to Windsor, where the President inspected the Guard of Honour and provided a gift of a jumper for the mascot, an Irish Wolfhound named Domhnall.

Pictured is President of Ireland Michael D Higgins Source: Chris Bellew/Fennell Photography

After a private lunch the president was brought by the Queen to see some of the treasures in the Royal Collection at Windsor Castle.

News 08042014. . Pictured is President Source: Chris Bellew/Fennell Photography

Westminster

The President and his wife then returned to central London and Westminster Abbey where a wreath, with a tricoloured ribbon, was laid at the poppy-decorated tomb of the unknown warrior, a solider who died in the First World War.

In what was seen as a hugely significant moment, the President paused at a memorial to Earl Mountbatten, a cousin of Queen Elizabeth, who was murdered by the IRA off the Sligo coast in 1979.

PresHigginsWestminsterAbbey2 Source: Malcolm McNally

Unsurprisingly, the comparison has been made with the Queen’s visit to the Garden of Remembrance in Dublin on her State visit to Ireland in 2011.

Then it was across the road to Westminster Palace and a historic speech to both Houses of Parliament in the Royal Gallery, a stunning hall with monuments to the battles of Waterloo and Trafaglar.

In unscripted remarks, the President noted it was his first visit to a parliament since he had been inaugurated in November 2011 (though he has been to the European Parliament) and spoke of the “fresh canvas” that Britain and Ireland now have on which “to sketch our shared hopes”.

In a nod to his own political ideology, Higgins said that politics, society, and the economy should not be seen as separate.

Palace of Westminster Source: Johnny Bambury/Fennell Photography

“This is a divisive perspective which undermines the essential relationship between the citizen and the State,” he said.

He said that both governments have a “shared responsibility” to build on the work that led to the Good Friday Agreement, but noted that the two countries now share “a closeness and warmth that once seem unachievable”.

His final call for “peace, prosperity and ever closer friendship” received a standing ovation from an audience that included the most senior British politicians.

Back to Windsor for the State banquet

Then it was back to Windsor where he met with Labour leader Ed Miliband, the leader of the Opposition in the UK. Both were wearing their glad rags ahead of the State banquet in the Castle.

PresidentMeetsEdMiliband3 Source: Chris Bellew/Fennell Photography

 

Beef, halibut and some fine wine were on the menu for the banquet in the immaculately laid out St George’s Hall in Windsor Castle.

But before the guests – among them sports stars and celebrities – tucked in there were speeches from the President and the Queen.

Her Majesty said that her visit to Ireland two years ago had left a lasting impression, name-checking the English Market in Cork and the Rock of Cashel, and saying that the UK and Ireland have become good and dependable neighbours and better friends.

Screen Shot 2014-04-08 at 20.59.11 Source: Screengrab/RTÉ

She pledged that her government would “stand alongside” the President and the Irish government “throughout the anniversaries of the war and the events that led to the creation of the Irish Free State” and praised the Irish influence on Britain.

“It is widely recognised that Britain is a better place because of the Irish people who live here,” she said, nothing that the Irish had once suffered from discrimination.

Screen Shot 2014-04-08 at 20.57.35 Source: Screengrab/RTÉ

In his address, the President said that he and his wife felt “very much at home” on their visit and said the two countries “live in both the shadow and in the shelter of one another”.

He said: “Through conquest and resistance, we have cast shadows on each other, but we have also gained strength from one another as neighbours and, most especially, from the contribution of those who have travelled between our islands in recent decades.”

He praised the Queen for not shying away from the “shadows of the past” praising her moving words and gestures of respect on her visit to Ireland in 2011.

His speech concluded with a toast to “a creative cooperation and a sustainable partnership between our countries and our peoples; and to valued neighbours whose friendship we truly cherish”.

  • Follow @oconnellhugh for updates from London as the State visit continues on Wednesday. 

In full: Follow all our State Visit coverage here > 

More: ‘A closeness and warmth that once seemed unachieveble’: Higgins’ address to Westminster

Read: 275 horses and an Irish Wolfhound named Domhnall welcome President to Windsor

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Hugh O'Connell

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