Michael D the perfect horse for the diplomatic course
The President will surely get a bookof poetry out of his State trip
“Oh, how lovely!” exclaimed Sabina when a lamb was presented. She cuddling the baffled mite and giving it nuzzle, before moving on to the pigs.
If Michael D doesn’t get a new volume of poetry out of this groundbreaking State visit he may throw one of his tasselled caps at the caper.
Although that won’t be any great hardship for him. On the academic and honorary doctorate front he probably has a drawerful of tasselled caps by now. Although there’s one new addition to the collection he won’t be too keen to fling at the muse.
That’s the St Patrick’s blue cap with the gold tassel which goes with the St Patrick’s blue shirt with the gold arms – his own racing silks in the President’s colours.
Michael D presented trainers Andrew and Anna-Lisa Balding with a framed set of the colours when he visited their impressive stables in Berkshire yesterday. Flattened behind the glass, the silks looked the perfect fit for a very fat jockey.
The trip to Kingsclere in Newbury followed a morning visit to the “FAI experimental farm” in Oxfordshire.
This is not a daring initiative by the Football Association of Ireland to grow new talent but a research project by Food Animal Initiative farms into improving methods of compassionate and sustainable agriculture.
This was the President’s day out in the country. The big road car was gone and he and wife Sabina travelled in a convoy of enormous Range Rovers, with the Tánaiste and his wive Carol also in the high-powered four-by-four motorcade.
Michael D wore his favourite Donegal tweed suit for the occasion and declined the offer of Wellington boots because the ground was dry
Sabina wore a coat in a lovely shade of burnt orange, while Carol Hanney chose subtle tones of green.
Having spent the previous three days meeting and shaking hands with people, it will have come as a nice change for them to meet receiving lines made up of sheep, cows, pigs and hens.
“Oh, how lovely!” exclaimed Sabina when a lamb was presented. She cuddling the baffled mite before moving on to the pigs.
These Gloucestershire Old Spot specimens were not for lifting, but very winsome. We weren’t to know at the time, but these pigs were going to be on special duty a few hours later in Windsor Castle.
The pig is an interesting creature, observed Sabina. When they go foraging for food “they remember their ground, rooting it out – it’s in their genes.”
Michael D looked pensive. Perhaps a few stanzas crystallising in his mind’s eye among the noble farmyard creatures.
Jack Russells apart, the only animals on view at Park House Stables were horses of the expensive thoroughbred kind and a wooden one on springs in the tack room for the jockeys to practise on.
Array of colours
An impressive array of colours hang in that room – racing silks belonging to owners whose horses are trained at the stables. Mr Higgins was shown the queen’s colours and he recognised the red and white with star silks displayed near them.
“That’s Alex Ferguson’s!”
The Irish National Stud, by the way, presented the President with a horse recently. Aimhirgin Lass is a two-year-old filly trained by John Oxx in Kildare, and Michael D has high hopes for her when she gets to run a race.
The visitors met young Oisin Murphy, a champion apprentice jockey from Killarney who is sweeping all before him.
Also there to greet them was Eugene Cullen from Clonroche in Co Wexford, who came to the yard 35 years ago as a jockey and is now a farrier.
Eugene was “shoeing” My Learned Friend when Michael D arrived, and Omar Khayyam in the stall next door leaned out and tried to undo all the good of the past week by giving the President a friendly headbutt.
All very enjoyable – but with a purpose. Both visits underlined Ireland’s importance to Britain in the agri-food and thoroughbred horse industry.
Then it was back to Windsor Castle for a special reception with a Northern Ireland theme.
This is when the pigs made a spectacular return. The photographers didn’t record their flight across the gilded ceiling, but they did catch Martin McGuinness and the Queen in smiling conversation.
The British newspapers will be in a lather.
And to top another hectic day, everyone hared off to the Royal Albert Hall, no less, for an evening of the best of Irish entertainment.
The Taoiseach was over again – this time with wife Fionnuala. Together with Mr and Mrs Higgins and Mr and Mrs Gilmore, they met with the Prince and Princess Michael of Kent in the royal retiring room at the Royal Albert Hall.
That was a bit unfortunate for Enda, as the topic of retirement (no, the Garda commissioner did not resign) is an awkward one for him at the moment.
Sabina (wearing Aideen Bodkin in rose pink lace) in many ways has been the star of the week, and said there had been “a wonderful atmosphere” above in Windsor Castle. But then she will have loved the sight of those flying pigs.
By the way, there’s been something missing these past few days. Has anyone else noticed?
They said it couldn’t be done. But it has been done (even if it has taken our nearest neighbours to show us how).
So far – and today is the last day – a very important and highly publicised Irish-themed event involving the President, the Tánaiste, the queen of England and a stellar cast of political, business and entertainment luminaries has unfolded swimmingly without anyone thrusting a pint of stout into a Hibernian hand.
This really is a historic event. We blame Seamus Heaney and that line from The Cure at Troy being liberally quoted as Michael D completes Ireland’s hugely welcomed first State visit to the United Kingdom.
“And Hope and History rhyme,” wrote Heaney.
The happy visit has flowed like a good poem.
But it does not reflect the way similar occasions involving world leaders have happened in Ireland, when the emphasis has been on making “hops and history rhyme”.
Maybe this groundbreaking trip – a triumph of hope over hops – will signal a new approach to such visits in the future.
The night ended on a cultural high.
“On a night like this it is great to be Irish. And it is even better to share it in the company of our friends in Britain. Ar aghaidh leis an gceol!” said the President.