Countries should live together as friends, says queen Elizabeth

President Higgins thanks monarch for her kind, generous welcome and warm hospitality on first day of State visit

Britain and Ireland shall "no longer allow our past to ensnare our future", Queen Elizabeth said last night.

In an address to a state banquet for President Michael D Higgins at Windsor Castle, part of the first state visit to Britain by an Irish president, the queen said the countries should live together as neighbours and friends who are "respectful of each other's nationhood, sovereignty and traditions".

Mr Higgins thanked his hosts for the kind and generous welcome and warm hospitality extended to him and his wife, Sabina, since their arrival on Monday.

"However long it may have taken, Your Majesty, I can assure you that this first state visit of a president of Ireland to the United Kingdom is a very visible sign of the warmth and maturity of the relationship between our two countries."


During the banquet, Mr Higgins sat next to the queen with Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, to his other side. Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore sat to the queen's right. Mrs Higgins sat between Prince Philip and the Prince of Wales.

A total of 160 people attended the event including Taoiseach Enda Kenny and his wife Fionnuala, British prime minister David Cameron and his wife Samantha, and former president Mary McAleese and her husband Martin.

The decision to invite Martin McGuinness of Sinn Féin drew attention ahead of the banquet. Mr McGuinness sat between Sir Paul Nurse of the Royal Society and Shami Chakrabarti, Chancellor of Oxford Brookes University and the director advocacy group Liberty. Mr McGuinness sat 15 seats away from Prince Philip, whose uncle Lord Mountbatten was among three people killed in an IRA attack in Co Sligo in 1979.

Other guests included broadcaster Sir Terry Wogan and his wife Lady Wogan, Irish rugby international Brian O'Driscoll and his wife, the actor and author Amy Huberman; actors Daniel Day-Lewis and Dame Judi Dench, hat designer Philip Treacy, sculptor Sir Antony Gormley.

Guests sat around the 160ft Windsor Castle state banquet table, which was set at the centre with a candelabra in the shape of St George and the Dragon.

The menu featured a fillet of Isle of Gigha halibut with leeks and fine herb sauce, followed by Windsor Estate beef with wild mushrooms served with broccoli and hollandaise sauce as well as baked onions stuffed with parmesan and bulghur wheat. For dessert guests were served a vanilla ice cream bombe with a Balmoral redcurrant centre.

Mr Higgins was given a pair of photographs of the queen and Prince Philip, as well as a copy of The Dubliners by James Joyce, which had been specially bound and boxed by the Windsor bindery. Mrs Higgins was given a small silver engine-turned box with gold cypher by William & Son.

Ahead of the banquet, Mr Higgins met British Labour leader Ed Miliband in the Windsor Castle White Drawing Room.

Mr Higgins was joined by Mr Gilmore, Irish Ambassador to Britain Daniel Mulhall and Liam Herrick, the President's adviser.

Mr Miliband was accompanied by shadow Northern Ireland secretary Ivan Lewis and British ambassador to Ireland Dominic Chilcott.

President Higgins told Mr Miliband it had been a “ wonderful visit” and that he was “pleased” with the arrangements that had been made for him.

Steven Carroll

Steven Carroll

Steven Carroll is an Assistant News Editor with The Irish Times