President Michael D Higgins has led tributes to Britain’s Queen Elizabeth, saying she “set out a new, forward looking relationship between our nations” and will be “deeply missed”.
On Thursday evening, Buckingham Palace announced the queen, who was 96, had died at Balmoral Castle in Scotland. Earlier, she had been put under medical supervision after doctors became “concerned” about her health.
In a statement, Mr Higgins said it is “with profound regret and deep personal sadness” that he learned of her death, and expressed his “heartfelt sympathy” to the royal family on their loss.
“Her personal commitment to her role and extraordinary sense of duty were the hallmarks of her period as queen, which will hold a unique place in British history,” he said.
President Higgins said the queen often spoke about her historic State visit to Ireland in 2011, the first by a British monarch since Irish independence, and during which time she did “so much through eloquent word and generous gesture to improve relations between our two islands”.
“Queen Elizabeth’s visit was pivotal in laying a firm basis for an authentic and ethical understanding between our countries. During those memorable few days eleven years ago, the queen did not shy away from the shadows of the past,” the President said.
“Her moving words and gestures of respect were deeply appreciated and admired by the people of Ireland and set out a new, forward looking relationship between our nations — one of respect, close partnership and sincere friendship.”
Taoiseach Micheál Martin described Queen Elizabeth’s reign as one of “historic duration, immense consequence and a focus of respect and admiration around the world.
“Her dedication to duty and public service were self-evident and her wisdom and experience truly unique. The queen’s passing is indeed the end of an era,” he said.
“Her state visit to Ireland in 2011 marked a crucial step in the normalisation of relations with our nearest neighbour. That visit was a great success, largely because of the many gracious gestures and warm remarks made by the queen during her time in Ireland.”
Mr Martin said the Irish Government will join her grieving family and people to mourn the loss of “an exceptional woman who led by quiet and dignified example and who touched so many lives over her exceptionally long reign”.
He added: “Our world is a poorer place for her passing but a far richer and better place as a result of her long life and enduring contribution.”
Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said Queen Elizabeth’s reign “helped usher in a new era of hope and reconciliation between our two countries, opening a new chapter in relations between Ireland and the UK”.
“Ireland has had a complex and deeply troubled relationship with the British monarchy over many centuries. Queen Elizabeth will be remembered as someone who built bridges between Ireland and the UK, and restored connections between our nations,” he said. “We didn’t realise it at the time, but her visit to Ireland was a new beginning in relations between Ireland and the UK.”
Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney described the queen as a “constant and reassuring presence in British life”.
On her State visit, Mr Coveney said: “The warmth and spontaneity of the queen on that occasion touched all those she met. So did her generosity of spirit and her commitment to reconciliation on these islands.”
While the royal family grieve her loss, “they also can give thanks for a long life of public service lived to the full with immense dignity”, he added.
Former President Mary McAleese offered condolences to the queen’s family and the people of the United Kingdom “to whom she gave such faithful and dignified service for many decades”.
Speaking of the queen’s visit in 2011, she said: “The warm welcome she received underlined the great desire of the Irish people, a desire strongly reciprocated by Her Majesty, The Queen, for good neighbourly relationships to flourish between us. Let us hope that legacy, in which she invested so much, will be honoured and realised.”
Sinn Féin president Mary Lou McDonald said the queen’s passing “marks the end of an era”.
“The queen proved a powerful advocate and ally of those who believe in peace and reconciliation. I salute her contribution to the huge change that has evolved in recent years. Her death is a moment of heartbreak and pride for the British people,” she said.
Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland Eamon Martin said since her coronation in 1953, the queen showed “immense commitment, not only to her royal duties and responsibilities, but also to the wider common good”.
“She came across as friendly and good humoured and took time to put everyone at their ease. I have always admired Queen Elizabeth’s quiet dignity and calm nature despite living through very difficult times with much political, economic, social and family upheaval. That was why ordinary people of all backgrounds and faiths could relate to her and held her in such affection,” he added.
“I am grateful for Queen Elizabeth’s commitment to promoting better understanding and relationships between the Anglican Church and the Catholic Church,” said Archbishop Martin. “During her reign, she met with five popes, including Saint Pope John Paul II in 2000 at the Vatican. In Edinburgh, in 2010, Queen Elizabeth extended a wholehearted welcome to Pope Benedict XVI’s memorable visit to the United Kingdom. We also recall her warm meeting with Pope Francis in the Vatican in 2014.”
In a letter to Sir Lindsay Hoyle, the speaker of the House of Commons, Ceann Comhairle Seán Ó Fearghaíl described the queen’s 2011 visit as a “critical watershed” moment, adding that she will be remembered in Ireland with the “most enormous respect and affection”.