Welcoming eyes of friendship shine through the pomp
Two nations let out a most hearfelt and longed for sigh of relief
Michael D raised his glass in a toast “to valued neighbours whose friendship we truly cherish”.
It was a grand celebration last night, in every sense of the word. A meeting of friends. “The shadow of our past has become the shelter of our present,” he said, nearing the end of a sparkling first day of lyrical flourishes.
The day began at the Irish Embassy in London, and the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall kindly escorted the honoured guests from London to Windsor Castle, with Charles delivering Michael D bang on time for his historic midday rendezvous with the queen.
The ceremonial welcome took place at a special pavilion on a road on the outskirts of the town. The principals arrived by limousine and left by carriage, with the 275-strong Household Cavalry leading the way.
It was a stirring sight – the plumes and swords and glinting breastplates, men in velvet kneebreeches and men in tricorn hats and bowler hats, the swords, maces, swagger sticks and one officer, known as the “Silver Stick in Waiting”, cutting quite a dash.
This was history according to schedule.
At the appointed hour, the queen moved towards the front of the dias to greet her guest. President Higgins stepped from his car and mounted the steps. When they shook hands, church bells rang, a 21-gun salute rang out from Windsor and 41 cannons went off in Hyde Park for good measure.
Then the Irish national anthem.
With Michael D standing there proudly, chest out, and the guns still sounding in the distance, some of us were feeling just a little weepy.
They moved off in procession through the town – the queen and President, the Duke of Edinburgh and Sabina and look, there’s Prince Charles in an open carriage with Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore, and him waving and looking like he was born to it.
A crowd always turns out to see the pageantry on occasions like this. And while neither England, nor London, came to a standstill for this hugely important occasion to us, there was still a sizeable Irish contingent in Windsor.
James Nolan and Gerry Arthur were heading along to stand outside the Three Brewers pub and watch the President of Ireland pass. James is originally from outside Athenry and is 40 years in Britain. He worked in Heathrow most of his life.
Gerry is originally from Ballycarr in Clare and is 44 years in England. “I’m from the same village as the President” he tells us. “I went to school with him.” And was he smart? “Ah, he was clever, I can tell ya!”
They both married Irish girls.
“I think this is very historic and I hope it goes off well. It’s given the Irish community a huge boost,” said Gerry. “But I don’t know what to think about Martin McGuinness,” added James.
Down the road a little, Maura Hoskins, originally from Carlow but now living in Maidenhead, has her folding chair and is waiting for her sister Sadie Reddy, living in London, to come back from WH Smith with safety pins to stop their flag from blowing away from the barrier.