Saturday 20 January 2018

Twins capture royal hearts despite work of great minds

Benhaffaf babies prove real wonders, writes Ralph Riegel

Angie Benhaffaf (right) with her twins Hassan and Hussein (held by Sinead O'Sullivan, from the Tyndall HR Department) at the Tyndall National Institute, yesterday
Angie Benhaffaf (right) with her twins Hassan and Hussein (held by Sinead O'Sullivan, from the Tyndall HR Department) at the Tyndall National Institute, yesterday

SHE may be the Queen of England but she is also a proud grandmother.

Queen Elizabeth II arrived at the Tyndall Institute in Cork yesterday -- home to some of the most cutting-edge technology in Ireland -- but was captivated instead by formerly conjoined Irish twins, Hassan and Hussein Benhaffaf.

Not that little Hassan would even have noticed. The 17- month-old managed to sleep through the visit to the amusement of the Duke of Edinburgh and the queen's two ladies in waiting.

"She was so lovely. She asked me all about the twins, when I was first told they were conjoined and how we coped with the separation surgery," the boys' mother, Angie Benhaffaf explained.

"It was such an honour to meet her. It is a great day for Cork and wonderful to see her here. I told her it was my dream to see the boys one day holding hands and being able to walk side by side," she said.

The visit itself proved very much a case of back to the future for the queen. The last function on the last day of the monarch's Irish visit was the Tyndall Institute, Ireland's showcase R&D centre.

In the lobby of the steel and glass building, a statue of the queen's great, great grandmother, Queen Victoria, sternly overlooked the proceedings.

It was a heady presence, brought in for the occasion -- as the queen herself no doubt understood.


When Queen Victoria first visited Cork in 1849, she helped found a university and had an entire town (Cobh) named 'Queenstown' in her honour.

By the 1930s, Ireland was independent, Cobh was back to its original title and the statue which the queen had proudly seen erected in UCC had not only been torn down by Irish students but was later ignominiously buried.

Yesterday, the queen's great, great grandmother was not only unearthed but accorded a place of special honour in Tyndall.

UCC President Dr Michael Murphy admitted it was apt that a royal visit which set out to square the turbulent Anglo-Irish past should finish with the emphasis firmly on the future. The queen clearly approved.

Tyndall chief executive Roger Whatmore is a native of Liverpool and he explained that his institute is named after Carlow scientist John Tyndall.

As an Englishman, he said he was deeply moved by the warmth and kindness extended to Britain's head of state.

"I am not a politician but this was a huge day for Anglo-Irish relations and a great day for Tyndall and UCC," he said. He informed the queen that it was Tyndall -- an expert in gases -- who discovered precisely why the sky was blue.

Yesterday, Anglo-Irish relations undoubtedly entered their most cloud-free period for generations. The queen -- accompanied by a clearly fascinated Duke of Edinburgh -- was given a tour of the gleaming high-tech labs and the various technology demonstration 'pods'.

The fastest microchips in use have been developed here and the queen was shown photonic, micro-needle and wide-band radar technologies which will revolutionise computing and medical systems over the next decade.

Academics, politicians and business leaders rubbed shoulders with guests, invited to reflect the queen's interests.

Dr Edward Kiely, the Cork-born surgeon who supervised the Benhaffaf twin's separation surgery in London's Great Ormond Street Hospital last year, said it was an historic day.

"There has been terrible history between our two countries but you cannot rewrite history. You have to move on. Cork is the Rebel County. There was lots of fighting here almost 100 years ago. But if Cork can get on with it then that is fantastic."

Dr Kiely -- who lives in London -- said he never thought he would live to see the queen receive such a warm and enthusiastic welcome.

Other notable guests to greet the royal party were Richard O'Shea, the 2010 Irish Young Scientist of the Year, and Owen O'Keeffe, the youngest Irish person to swim the channel.

Irish Independent

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