Higgins says Ireland and the UK have ‘gained strength’ from one another

President Higgins and Queen Elizabeth address State Banquet at Windsor Castle

President Michael D Higgins has addressed both houses of parliament at the Palace of Westminster in London on the first of his four-day State visit to the UK

Ireland and Britain have gained strength living "in both the shadow and in the shelter of one another" through the years, President Michael D Higgins told a State Banquet at Windsor Castle this evening.

Mr Higgins said this first state visit of a President of Ireland to the United Kingdom “was a very visible sign of the warmth and maturity of the relationship between our two countries” and marked a transformation in relations.

“Through conquest and resistance, we have cast shadows on each other, but we have also gained strength from one another as neighbours and, most especially, from the contribution of those who have travelled between our islands in recent decades,” he said.

Queen Elizabeth has greeted President Michael D Higgins at Windsor Castle as part of the first State visit to Britain. Mr Higgins and his wife Sabina arrived at Windsor accompanied by the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall. Video: RTÉ
Queen Elizabeth has greeted President Michael D Higgins at Windsor Castle as part of the first State visit to Britain. Amhrán a Bhfíann was played before the queen and Mr Higgins were led to their horsedrawn carriage to go through Windsor. Video: RTÉ

“While the past must be respectfully recognised it must not imperil the potential of the present or the possibilities of the future,” he said.


“We must, however, never forget those who died, were bereaved, or injured, during the tragic conflict.”

Mr Higgin said the warm welcome he had received was “very deeply felt and appreciated”.

He said despite the length of time it took for the visit to happen, it was a sign of the warmth and maturity of the relationship between Ireland and Britain.

“We have moved on from the past where our relations were often troubled,” Mr Higgins.

“While we grieve together for lost lives, we will not let any painful aspect of our shared history deflect us from crafting a future that offers hope and opportunity for the British and Irish people.”

In his toast he said: “To valued neighbours whose friendship we truly cherish”.

In her speech, Queen Elizabeth said she recalled her visit to Ireland "with great pleasure."

“We were received warmly wherever we went. Dublin; the city of Cork and its English market; Ireland’s historic landmarks like the Rock of Cashel; your people’s famous hospitality - and, of course, Ireland’s thoroughbred horses - all these and much more left a happy and enduring impression,” she said.

“But even more pleasing, since then, is that we, the Irish and British, are becoming good and dependable neighbours and better friends; finally shedding our inhibitions about seeing the best in each other.”

She said Britain had been had been hugely enriched by the migration of Irishmen and women to these shores.

She invited guests to raise a toast to the President and Mrs. Higgins and to the health and prosperity of the people of Ireland.

The 160 guests, who include Taoiseach Enda Kenny, former president Mary McAleese and British prime minister David Cameron, will dine on fillet of Isle of Gigha halibut with young leeks and fine herb sauce.

For the main course they will eat tornadoes of Windsor estate beef with wild mushrooms and water cress puree, served with purple sprouting broccoli and sauce hollandaise, baked onions stuffed with parmesan and bulghar wheat

For dessert guests will have vanilla ice-cream bombe with Balmoral redcurrant centre.

The tables are decorated with candelabras and flowers and foliage — including Bells of Ireland, a green flower — with shades of orange and white to represent the Irish colours.

Guests will be entertained by an orchestra.

Earlier, Mr Higgins said Ireland and Britain have achieved a closeness and warmth “that once seemed unachievable”.

In the first address by an Irish head of State to MPs and Lords at the Houses of Parliament Mr Higgins said the people of Ireland greatly cherish the political independence that was secured in 1922 - “an independence which was fought for by my father and many of his generation.”

He said the pain and sacrifice associated with the advent of Irish Independence inevitably cast a long shadow across relations between the two countries.

Mr Higgins said Britain and Ireland must take pride in the peace that has been built in Northern Ireland.

“I am conscious that I am in the company here of many distinguished parliamentarians who have made their own individual contributions to the journey we have travelled together,” he said.

“I acknowledge them and I salute them, as I acknowledge and salute all those who have selflessly worked to build concord between our peoples. I celebrate our warm friendship and I look forward with confidence to a future in which that friendship can grow even more resolute and more productive.”

He said the relationship of mutual respect, friendship and co-operation which exists between our two countries was “brought into sharp relief” by the historic visit of the queen to Ireland three years ago.

“Her Majesty’s visit eloquently expressed how far we have come in understanding and respecting our differences, and it demonstrated that we could now look at each other through trusting eyes of mutual respect and shared commitments.

“The ties between us are now strong and resolute. Formidable flows of trade and investment across the Irish Sea confer mutual benefit on our two countries. In tourism, sport and culture, our people to people connections have never been as close or abundant.”

Earlier President Higgins paused by the Mountbatten Memorial on visit to Westminster Abbey after laying a wreath at the Grave of the Unknown Soldier. At noon Queen Elizabeth greeted the President at Windsor Castle at one of the key parts of the first day of his four-day state visit.

Mr Higgins and his wife Sabina arrived at the Royal Dais at Windsor accompanied by the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall.

Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip were awaiting their arrival, and the occasion was marked with the firing of a royal salute by members of The King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery.

The queen introduced Mr Higgins to the mayor of the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead Cllr Andrew Jenner, Thames Valley Police chief constable Sara Thornton and a number of other dignitaries.

Thereafter there was a further royal salute, and Amhrán na bhFiann was played before the queen and Mr Higgins were led to their horse drawn carriage, the Australian State Coach, for a procession through the streets of Windsor, which were lined with Irish and British flags and a large number of people watching on.

The crowd was made up largely of locals, children enjoying their Easter holidays and there was a large presence from the Irish community.

The procession arrived at the Windsor Castle Quadrangle, where an awaiting guard of honour fired a royal salute and the national anthems of the two countries were played.

Mr Higgins inspected the guard, which included members of the 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards and the Queen’s Colour Company, accompanied by Prince Philip.

The President was introduced to Drummer David Steed, who was holding the Irish Guard’s mascot - an Irish Wolfhound named Domhnall.

Following a march-past, Mr and Mrs Higgins, the queen and Prince Philip entered the castle through the Sovereign Entrance.

Stephen Collins

Stephen Collins

Stephen Collins is a columnist with and former political editor of The Irish Times

Steven Carroll

Steven Carroll

Steven Carroll is an Assistant News Editor with The Irish Times