Queen Elizabeth greets stars at reception for Irish community

British monarch welcomes Van Morrison, Imelda May and Niall Horan to Buckingham Palace

One Direction’s Niall Horan (2nd right) meets Queen Elizabeth of Britain at a reception for the Irish community at Buckingham Palace, London. Photograph: Steve Parsons/PA Wire

One Direction’s Niall Horan (2nd right) meets Queen Elizabeth of Britain at a reception for the Irish community at Buckingham Palace, London. Photograph: Steve Parsons/PA Wire


Three years ago, a photograph of a Cork fishmonger, Pat O’Connell and Queen Elizabeth II, both beaming with laughter, became the image of her State visit to Ireland that went around the world.

Tonight in Buckingham Palace, the two again met in laughter when the queen, accompanied by the Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Philip, greeted the man from the English Market and 300 other Irish guests.

“Well, she recognised me, anyway. We had a joke back in 2011 where I told her that I was more nervous than I had been since I got married 30 years earlier. “Tonight, I told her I was better dressed than I have been for 30 years,” O’Connell told The Irish Times minutes later at the reception to mark the role played by the Irish in Britain.

“The Duke said to me, “Well, you’re here!”,” he went on.

Pressed to offer more details about his exchanges with the queen, O’Connell said: “Before she left she asked me if I had brought any fish.”

The gathering was the curtain-raiser for President Michael D Higgins’s state visit to Britain early next month - the first time a visit by an Irish head of state has received such status.

The guests included musician Van Morrison, ex-Formula 1 team-owner Eddie Jordan, ex-rugby player Bob Casey, designer Orla Kiely, ex-world boxing champion Barry McGuigan.

“It is a wonderful occasion for the Irish community in Britain,” said Irish Ambassador to Britain Dan Mulhall.

“They have made a huge contribution to Britain over the years - a huge contribution.”

Grand National winner and racehorse trainer Jonjo O’Neill joked: “I was only talking to her about horses, it all I know about. She just had a horse lose by a short-head in Australia.

“Sure, she’ll pick up a few quid anyway. It is lovely to be invited to the palace,” he told The Irish Times, following his extended words with the queen.

Bernie O’Roarke, who works with domestic abuse victims in London, declared: “I’m very proud and my family back in Ireland are very proud, really thrilled.”

The Clones, Co Monaghan-born Barry McGuigan exchanged pleasantries with the queen and Prince Philip.

“The Duke said it was a long time since he had seen me. I haven’t been here since the 1990s,” he said.

Clearly enjoying the occasion, the queen mingled with the guests who had begun to gather in Buckingham Palace before six o’clock for the reception.

Getting into the spirit of things, a spokesman for the palace later said: “It was a really fun evening - great company and extremely relaxed. Her Majesty seemed to enjoy the craic.”

Former Ireland rugby international Bob Casey was one of 10 people to be presented to the queen in the White Drawing Room at the start of the reception.

“I am more nervous than I ever was going out at Twickenham. It’s lovely, I am really, really thrilled to be here. It is amazing,” he said later.

The guests numbered NI Secretary of State Theresa Villiers, chef Rachel Allen, One Direction singer Niall Horan, along with Dr Cecilia McDaid, who leads Conradh na Gaeilge in Glasgow.

“It is an absolute honour to step inside this building and meet the lady herself. Obviously when Irish and English people get together it is always a good occasion,” said Horan.

“I saw an envelope which had the Buckingham Palace royal stamp on top and it was a bit ‘OK what is this about’ and I got a bit of a shock and here we are three weeks later,” he went on.

Band manager Louis Walsh, who is a judge for the X-Factor show, declared: “It is a really good night, a celebration of all things great about Ireland and the Irish.

“The queen was magnificent when she came to Ireland. She has the X Factor, she’s got it, no doubt about that,” he said, as he broke away from chatting to Orla Kiely and Rachel Allen.

Now living in Norwich, Graham Linehan, the co-creator of the Father Ted series said: “If you are a writer and you turn down a chance to get inside walls like these then you would be drummed out of the business.”