Standing ovation as curtain falls on hugely successful Irish State visit to UK

President Michael D Higgins exits on a high after speech to Royal Shakespeare Company and spontaneous walkabout in Stratford-upon-Avon

Michael D Higgins gives a speech on stage in front of the cast of Henry IV, Part 1 at the Royal Shakespeare Company in Statford-upon-Avon, during the first State visit to the UK by an Irish President. Photograph: Joe Giddens/PA Wire

Michael D Higgins gives a speech on stage in front of the cast of Henry IV, Part 1 at the Royal Shakespeare Company in Statford-upon-Avon, during the first State visit to the UK by an Irish President. Photograph: Joe Giddens/PA Wire

Sat, Apr 12, 2014, 01:00

Attention all staff at Áras an Uachtaráin! For the next few weeks, you may have to tether His Excellency to the ground with strong twine and tent pegs. Why? Put it this way: the presidential party didn’t have to go home on the Government jet last night. All they had to do was lash a gondola to Michael D and he would have flown them at high altitude across the Irish Sea.

The President’s historic state visit to the United Kingdom has been a resounding success. And to cap a magnificent week, he exited yesterday with a standing ovation and the applause of noted Shakespearean actors ringing in his ears after delivering a tour-de-force performance from the venerated stage of the Royal Shakespeare Company.

As he left the auditorium, smiling and flushed with excitement, Michael D gave a final little bow to nobody in particular (and the world) before stepping into the daylight. There’ll be no talking to the man now. Still, who can blame him. Could it get any better? Well, yes. It could.

As he walked back to the queen’s Bentley following a private tour of Shakespeare’s birthplace, Mr Higgins threw caution to the wind and went on an unscheduled walkabout.

Outstretched hands
Happy as the spring lambs he met the day before in Oxfordshire, he bolted towards the large crowd gathered at the security barriers. Michael D ran the line like Obama, grabbing the pleading outstretched hands, his wife Sabina doing likewise a few paces behind.

The President of Ireland smiled into their camera-phones for them and thanked the locals for their welcome. When he was basking in the applause of the Royal Shakespeare Company – the great thespian Sir Tony Sher enthusiastically clapping with Falstaffian energy – we thought Michael D had died and gone to heaven. Until outside the Bard’s house in Stratford-upon-Avon, that is. As ever, the diaspora put in a strong appearance. “Go raibh maith agat!” he said to them, to the complete wonder of two burly English blokes.

“Look, ‘ees speakin’ in Irish. ‘Eees speakin’ in Irish.Wow! That’s amaaaazing!” marvelled one of them.

Brian Dolan from Castlebar, (28 years living away from Ireland) – “the time goes in a heartbeat, but it’s always going to be home” – was very impressed by the First Citizen. “I never ever thought I’d see our President in the queen’s car flying the Irish flag outside William Shakespeare’s house,” he declared.

“I came here because it’s important to show your respect. This visit means an awful lot to the Irish in Britain, and you have to give credit to the British establishment too – they’ve shown their own respect by returning the hospitality shown to them in Ireland three years ago.”