State Visits

Saturday 26 July 2014

President Higgins and Sabina touch down in Ireland as much-heralded State visit comes to a close

Niall O'Connor in Coventry

Published 11/04/2014|18:20

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Britain's Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh bid farewell to Irish President Michael D. Higgins and his wife Sabina (not pictured) at Windsor Castle in Windsor, after the first State visit to the UK by an Irish President. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Friday April 11, 2014. See PA story ROYAL Ireland. Photo credit should read: Leon Neal/PA Wire
Britain's Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh bid farewell to Irish President Michael D. Higgins and his wife Sabina (not pictured) at Windsor Castle in Windsor, after the first State visit to the UK by an Irish President. Leon Neal/PA Wire
Martha Wainwright, 6, presents flowers to Irish President Michael D. Higgins and his wife Sabina Higgins during a visit to the Royal Shakespeare Company in Statford-upon-Avon. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Friday April 11, 2014. See PA story ROYAL Ireland. Photo credit should read: Joe Giddens/PA Wire
Martha Wainwright, 6, presents flowers to Irish President Michael D. Higgins and his wife Sabina Higgins during a visit to the Royal Shakespeare Company in Statford-upon-Avon. Joe Giddens/PA Wire
Britain's Queen Elizabeth greets Northern Ireland's Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness (L), First Minister Peter Robinson (2nd L) and Britain's Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Theresa Villiers (3rd L) during a Northern Ireland-themed reception at Windsor Castle at Windsor in southern England April 10, 2014. The event was organised as part of Irish President Michael D Higgins' (3rd R) four-day state visit. Also pictured is Prince Philip (2nd R) and Higgins' wife Sabina (R). REUTERS/Luke MacGregor  (BRITAIN - Tags: ROYALS ENTERTAINMENT POLITICS)
Britain's Queen Elizabeth greets Northern Ireland's Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness (L), First Minister Peter Robinson (2nd L) and Britain's Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Theresa Villiers (3rd L) during a Northern Ireland-themed reception at Windsor Castle at Windsor in southern England April 10, 2014. REUTERS/Luke MacGregor

PRESIDENT Michael D.Higgins has arrived back in Ireland following his four day State visit to Britain.

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For the first time during the remarkable trip, all barriers were stripped away as the President and his wife Sabina touched down in Baldonnel shortly after 6pm after what will be remembered as a momentous occasion.

It was a trip that excelled all expectations and appeared to strengthened the bonds between Britain, Ireland and their people.

In his final address in Coventry this afternoon, Mr Higgins quoted the late Nelson Mandela and Seamus Heaney as he commended residents for their courage and conviction in rebuilding a city that was devastated during the War.

"You rebuilt and dedicated your Cathedral to reconciliation and forgiveness - reminding the world, at a dark time, that humanity and compassion had not been extinguished," he said.

As the President and his wife Sabina climbed the sun-kissed Cathedral steps, dozens of local schoolchildren waved tri-colours and cheered.

The couple waited until their final engagement before stripping back the barriers and listening to the stories of Irish emigrants abroad.

One emigrant, Carmel Silver from Dublin, said the trip showed that the President "hasn't forgotten we're here".

Mr Higgins used his final speech from the remarkable visit to pay tribute to the Irish community living in the UK.

"You, and all Irish organisations, play a vital role by providing a 'home from home' for our community," he said.

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Britain's Queen Elizabeth II reacts as Irish President Michael D. Higgins and his wife Sabina prepare to leave Windsor Castle in Windsor, after the first State visit to the UK by an Irish President. Leon Neal/PA Wire

He added that there is virtually no aspect of British life "that has not been enriched by contributions from the Irish community".

"That success is due in no small part to the determination and character of those who settled here in more difficult times – some indeed who are in this room today," he added.

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Irish President Michael D. Higgins and his wife Sabina Higgins greet well wishers outside Shakespeare's Birthplace in Statford-upon-Avon. Joe Giddens/PA Wire

In his only press conference during the visit, Mr Higgins said that Irish people must not enter into "any kind of amnesia" regarding our past conflicts with Britain.

"There's one phrase that recalls in my mind...That was proximity in fact hides the nuances that are there in both of our countries," he said.

"We've had our comings and goings. That's that. That's fine and we're not required, as I've said and I repeat again, become invovled about in any amnesia about different events."

On the prospect of a Royal visit in 2016, Mr Higgins said he had no difficulty sharing in our grief with our neighbours.

"I haven't the slightest difficulty in recognising shared grief, recognising the personal actions based on ethics of the highest kind."

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Irish President Michael D. Higgins and his wife Sabina Higgins are shown a wig from Henry IV part one by head of wigs and make-up Sandra Smith (right) during a visit to the Royal Shakespeare Company in Statford-upon-Avon. Joe Giddens/PA Wire

Mr Higgins also said it was extremely important that Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness attended events associated with the State visit.

The couple had earlier left Windsor Castle, where they stayed as Queen Elizabeth's formal guests, and headed for Stratford-upon-Avon, the birthplace of Shakespeare.

Mr Higgins last night was guest of honour at the Royal Albert Hall, which played host to a special concert or Ceiliuradh.

The event was one of a number of special occasions on this historic State visit, which will be most remembered for Queen Elizabeth's remarks about the 1916 commemorations.

Her Majesty told Mr Higgins that the Royal family and British Government will stand"shoulder-to-shoulder" with the Irish people as we remember the events of the Easter Rising.

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