Fishmonger Pat decks the halls with royal catch
HIS joke with Queen Elizabeth during her visit to Cork's English Market led to one of the most iconic images of a historic trip.
But fishmonger Pat O'Connell was astonished to receive a Christmas letter from Buckingham Palace expressing the queen's personal thanks for the warmth of the welcome she was shown during her state visit in May.
"I couldn't believe it, to be honest. It is a lovely letter and very personal," Mr O'Connell told the Irish Independent.
The queen is also expected to make glowing mention of Ireland in her televised Christmas Day address.
The royal address is annually watched by more than 25 million people -- and this year is expected to include warm memories of her Irish visit and TV highlights of her tours of Dublin, Cashel and Cork.
"I was very honoured to receive the letter and even more pleased that Cork came across as such a friendly and welcoming city," Mr O'Connell added.
The trader declined to reveal the letter's specific contents. "Because it is a personal letter I don't think it would be right to do that," he said.
But he admitted he was deeply touched the queen thought so much of her English Market tour that she took the time to write a Christmas 'thank you' note.
"Hopefully the whole thing will be good for the English Market, good for Cork and good for Ireland -- we're all hoping that it will bring a few more tourists over here," he said.
Mr O'Connell made headlines worldwide when an impromptu joke, as the monarch inspected his stall, caused her to laugh.
He admitted to the queen when he was greeting her that he hadn't been so nervous since his own wedding day.
The photograph of Mr O'Connell and the queen laughing became one of the iconic images of the first royal visit to Ireland in a century -- and appeared in newspapers throughout the world.
Mr O'Connell proudly displays a framed copy of the photo over his fish stall. He also plans to have the queen's letter framed.
In the summer, British Ambassador Julian King asked Mr O'Connell to sign a copy of the photograph so it could be presented to the queen to add to her private collection.
The largest crowds of the queen's four-day Irish visit were in Cork.
The monarch had specifically asked to visit the English Market given its history and gourmet food connections.