Minimal security as duke and UK ambassador go walkabout


TIMES HAVE changed. There was minimal security on the streets of Kilkenny yesterday during a walkabout by the British ambassador and the Duke of Abercorn.

The two men were on a private visit, hosted by Paul Smithwick of the former brewing family, but their tour of high-profile tourist attractions inevitably resulted in speculation that Kilkenny may be included on the itinerary for next year’s state visit by Queen Elizabeth.

During lunch at Kilkenny Castle they were shown photographs of the last royal visit – by Edward VII and Queen Alexandra in 1904. Until he retired last year, the duke (James Hamilton) whose seat is at Baronscourt, near Newtownstewart in Co Tyrone, was lord steward of the household – effectively the queen’s right-hand man at ceremonial events in Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle. While he had not discussed the forthcoming visit with the queen, he was “sure she’s looking forward to it” and believed she would also visit one of the country’s “remarkable” stud farms.

The duke, a former colonel of the Irish Guards, also commented on the report he had “read in The Irish Times on Saturday” about the “contribution of Irish servicemen in the British army both in the Royal Irish Regiment and the Irish Guards”.

He was “delighted” that recruitment of servicemen from the Republic was “coming back to pre-Troubles levels”. And he added that he thought it was “great” that many of the men who joined the British army at the higher officer class were “now from the west coast of Ireland and from places like Glenstal Abbey and other schools”.

The ambassador, Julian King, was “very pleased by the warmth of the response” to news of the royal visit and “everywhere” he goes in Ireland people are asking if the queen will visit their area, which was confirmation that “it was absolutely right and timely to press ahead with the visit”.

Asked what Ireland should be doing to encourage more British tourists to come to Ireland, Mr King said the tourist industry needed to get out a message about “the quality, the variety and the value of the offer that exists here”.