The Queen of England opens the doors of Buckingham Palace this week to welcome over 300 guests representing the Irish community in Britain. Guests to the Palace on the night ranged from Irish music stars to politicians and celebrities to community champions.
The special gathering was organised in recognition of the significant contribution the Irish community has made to life in Britain. The event was hosted by Queen Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh and kicked off a series of celebrations marking next month’s state visit to Britain by the Irish President Michael D Higgins.
Among the guests to receive a formal audience with the Queen at the start of the reception was the Ambassador of Ireland Dan Mulhall and his wife Greta, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Theresa Villiers MP and former Irish international rugby player and London Irish club man Bob Casey.
The Irish Ambassador added:
“This is a huge occasion for the Irish community in Britain. It has made a huge contribution to Britain, to Ireland and to British-Irish relations and this is a great recognition of the contribution they [the guests] have made by her Majesty in hosting this event in advance of the state visit.”
One of the youngest faces to meet the Queen was One Direction singer Niall Horan, who has lived in Britain for the last four years having achieved global success with his X Factor boy band. The 20 year old Westmeath native was clearly delighted to have attended such an event and stated:
“It is an absolute honour to step inside this building and meet the lady herself. Obviously when Irish and English people get together it is always a good occasion.”
The guests were not restricted to those Irish residing in Britain and so another familiar face in the gathering was that of Cork fishmonger, Pat O’Connell. Mr. O’Connell had famously met the Queen during her historic visit to the English Market in Cork City as part of her 2011 trip to Ireland. A photograph of both individuals laughing together became an instant hit and was published in the media around the world reflecting the good nature of the visit.
The Cork fishmonger jokingly added:
“Well, she recognised me anyway, we had a joke back in 2011 where I told her that I was more nervous than I had been since I got married 30 years earlier. Well tonight I told her I was better dressed than I have been for 30 years,”
“Who would have thought even three years ago that the Queen of England was going to visit Cork or going to visit the English market or going to visit Ireland. I mean it was an incredible visit and three years later to get an invitation to Buckingham Palace, what can you say really – fantastic.”
The state visit to Britain by Michael D Higgins takes place between the 8th and 11th of April when the Queen will host him at Windsor Castle.