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Thursday 18 September 2014

Higgins toasts the emigrants who built bridges of friendship

Niall O'Connor Political Correspondent

Published 11/04/2014 | 02:30

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Queen Elizabeth and President Michael D Higgins attend a Northern Ireland-themed reception at Windsor Castle at Windsor. The event was organised as part of Higgins' four-day state visit.   Reuters
Queen Elizabeth and President Michael D Higgins attend a Northern Ireland-themed reception at Windsor Castle at Windsor. The event was organised as part of Higgins' four-day state visit. Reuters

IRISH emigrants in Britain have helped create an "enduring friendship" between both countries, President Michael D Higgins has said.

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The President hailed the contribution made by emigrants and their families and insisted that they remained "cherished members" of the Irish family.

He was speaking at a special concert, or ceiliuradh, in London's Royal Albert Hall on the penultimate day of his momentous state visit.

President Higgins and his wife Sabina; the Taoiseach and his wife Fionnuala; Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore and his wife Carol met with the Prince and Princess Michael of Kent in the Royal Retiring Room ahead of the event.

Other guests were invited into the room, including ministers Frances Fitzgerald and Jimmy Deenihan, One Direction star Niall Horan and the renowned writer Lady Antonia Fraser.

Among those who performed at last night's event were Elvis Costello, 1996 Eurovision winner Eimear Quinn, author Joseph O'Connor and actress Fiona Shaw.

Well-known television personality Dermot O'Leary was the master of ceremonies.

Sabina, who had come from the reception at Windsor Castle, said there had been "a wonderful atmosphere" at the event.

Mr Higgins was in jubilant form as he and the guests were entertained by Irish musicians, such as Imelda May, Glen Hansard and Paul Brady.

He dedicated the celebration to the thousands of emigrants who have "made Britain their home".

"This celebration, above all, is for the thousands of Irish people in this hall who have made Britain their home or whose parents or grandparents did, as well as the friends, neighbours, relatives and in-laws, they have brought along," he said.

"I thank you most sincerely for the fidelity you have shown to Ireland over many years; for the contribution you have made to the development of Britain; and for your part in the consolidation of an enduring friendship between our two countries. You remain cherished members of the Irish family," he added.

Some 5,000 people packed into the renowned Royal Albert Hall to watch the President's address and enjoy the famous acts on display.

The event, which was hosted by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh Prince Philip, was attended by dozens of well-known faces.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny, Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore, Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin and Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness were among the political figures present.

Some 2,500 tickets were issued to guests, while the other half were sold for £10 (€12), the proceeds of which will be donated to youth charities.

Earlier, Aras an Uachtarain released details of the official gifts that were presented by the President to members of the royal family.

Despite being in New Zealand with his parents Prince William and Princess Kate, Prince George of Cambridge was the recipient of a gift from Mr and Mrs Higgins. He was presented with the 1920s Oscar Wilde classic 'The Happy Prince'.

As had already been announced, Queen Elizabeth was presented with a table-size bronze bust of the steeplechaser Arkle along with its trainer Pat Taffe.

Irish Independent

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