Irish eyes are smiling as Queen throws open doors of the Palace
350 guests greeted by monarch ahead of Higgins visit
IT is probably safe to say that Pat O'Connell was the most well-known fishmonger in Buckingham Palace.
The trader from the English Market in Cork last night joined some 350 other guests at a reception held by the Queen in the run-up to the official State visit of President Michael D Higgins to Britain in two weeks.
There was much laughter on both sides when the Queen and Mr O'Connell met again, three years after the iconic picture which showed them enjoying a light moment together during her visit to the English Market.
"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. Well, tonight, I told her I was better dressed than I have been for 30 years. The Duke said to me: 'Well, you're here!' Before she left she asked me if I had brought any fish with me," he said.
Clutching a book of maritime history which he brought as a present for the Queen, the fishmonger reflected on the moment when he became known worldwide.
"I mean, a trader from the English Market visiting Buckingham Palace – not bad," he said on the steps outside the reception. "Who would have thought even three years ago that the Queen of England was going to visit Cork, or going to visit the English market or going to visit Ireland. I mean it was an incredible visit and three years later to get an invitation to Buckingham Palace, what can you say, really – fantastic."
Guests at last night's reception featured a wide variety of figures from the worlds of fashion, sport, politics and entertainment along with community workers and activists.
Each were greeted by the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh in the Picture Gallery of the Palace at the event which was also attended by Princess Anne, The Duke and Duchess of Gloucester and The Duke of Kent.
First through the door was former boxer Barry McGuigan, who said relations between the countries had never been so good.
"Even through those troubled times years gone by, things were very hostile and it wasn't a nice place to live if you were an Irishman, particularly if you had a Belfast accent, but things have mellowed and since the peace treaty, things have got incredibly good in Northern Ireland," he said.
One Direction's Niall Horan told how his eyebrows were raised when the invitation came through the door.
"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 said.
Also among the guests were chef Rachel Allen, Irish ambassador to Britain Dan Mulhall, rugby pundit Conor O'Shea, politician Maurice Hayes, actor Michael Gambon, broadcaster Fergal Keane and Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Theresa Villiers. 'Father Ted' creator Arthur Mathews said he and his co-creator Graham Linehan had always enjoyed a good time in the UK.
"So it is time to thank the person responsible. I believe she was very concerned about our well-being while we were here so it is time to thank her for that," Mr Linehan joked.
'X Factor' judge Louis Walsh said he and his bands had always felt accepted in the UK, while designer Philip Treacy said it was an honour to be invited.
Former Formula One team boss Eddie Jordan said the Queen's visit to Ireland had resulted in a rapid change in relations between the countries.
"I was there at some of those meetings and I thought the whole atmosphere changed, the Anglo Irish relationship blossomed as a result," he said.
Singer Imelda May said she has admired the Queen since her visit to Ireland but did not perform. The reception lasted for some two hours during which time the Queen mingled with the guests and a palace spokesman said she "seemed to enjoy the craic".
Details of the visit of President Higgins to Britain are expected to be released today.