‘Her Majesty seemed to enjoy the craic’

Queen Elizabeth enjoyed mingling with Irish guests at Buckingham Palace

The gathering at Buckingham Palace was the curtain-raiser for the state visit to Britain of President Michael D Higgins and his wife Sabina early next month – the first time a visit by an Irish head of state has received such status. Video: Reuters

Wed, Mar 26, 2014, 01:00

The guests included musician Van Morrison, former Formula 1 team-owner Eddie Jordan, former London Irish rugby captain Bob Casey, designer Orla Kiely and former world boxing champion Barry McGuigan.

“It is a wonderful occasion for the Irish community in Britain,” said Irish Ambassador to Britain Dan Mulhall.

“They have made a huge contribution to Britain over the years, a huge contribution,” he added.

Three years ago, a photograph of a Cork fishmonger, Pat O’Connell and Queen Elizabeth, both beaming with laughter, became the laughing image of her State visit to Ireland that went around the world.

‘She recognised me’

Last night in Buckingham Palace, the two again met in laughter when the queen, accompanied by the Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Philip, greeted the man from the English Market and 300 other Irish guests.

“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.

“Tonight I told her I was better dressed than I have been for 30 years,” Mr O’Connell told The Irish Times minutes later at the reception to mark the role played by the Irish in Britain.

“The duke said to me, ‘Well, you’re here!’,” he went on.

Pressed to offer more details about his exchanges with the queen, O’Connell said: “Before she left she asked me if I had brought any fish.”

The gathering was the curtain-raiser for the state visit to Britain of President Michael D Higgins and his wife Sabina early next month – the first time a visit by an Irish head of state has received such status.

Grand National winner and racehorse trainer Jonjo O’Neill joked: “I was only talking to her about horses, it’s all I know about. She just had a horse
lose by a short head in
Australia.

“Sure, she’ll pick up a few quid anyway. It is lovely to be invited to the palace,” he told The Irish Times , following his chat with the queen.

Bernie O’Roarke, who works with domestic abuse victims in London, said:“I’m very proud and my family back in Ireland are very proud, really thrilled.”

The Clones, Co Monaghan- born Barry McGuigan exchanged pleasantries with the queen and Prince Philip.

“The duke said it was a long time since he had seen me. I haven’t been here since the 1990s,” he said.

Clearly enjoying the occasion, the queen mingled with the guests who had begun to gather in Buckingham Palace before 6pm for the reception.

Getting into the spirit of things, a spokesman for the palace later said: “It was a really fun evening – great company and extremely relaxed.

“Her Majesty seemed to enjoy the craic,” he said.

Former Ireland rugby international Bob Casey was one of 10 people to be presented to the queen in the White Drawing Room at the start of the reception.

“I am more nervous than I ever was going out at Twickenham. It’s lovely, I am really, really thrilled to be here. It is amazing,” he said later.

The guests also included Northern Ireland Secretary of State Theresa Villiers, chef Rachel Allen, One Direction singer Niall Horan, along with Dr Cecilia McDaid, who leads Conradh na Gaeilge in Glasgow.

“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,” said Horan.

“I saw an envelope which had the Buckingham Palace royal stamp on top and it was a bit ‘Okay what is this about?’ and I got a bit of a shock and here we are three weeks later.”

‘She has the X-Factor’
Band manager Louis Walsh, who is a judge on ITV talent show The X-Factor , said: “It is a really good night, a celebration of all things great about Ireland and the Irish”.

“The queen was magnificent when she came to Ireland. She has the X-Factor, she’s got it, no doubt about that,” he said, as he broke away from chatting to Orla Kiely and Rachel Allen.

Graham Linehan, the co-creator of hit Channel 4 comedy series Father Ted , said: “If you are a writer and you turn down a chance to get inside walls like these then you would be drummed out of the business.”

The queen was wearing a diamond broach shaped in the form of a shamrock and jacket and skirt evening suit designed by her senior dresser Angela Kelly.