QUEEN Elizabeth yesterday set the seal on an historic year for Anglo-Irish relations by hailing the "long-term friendship" between Ireland and Britain, which she said could provide hope for the future.
For the first time ever in her annual Christmas message to the British people, the Queen made a clear reference to the UK's relationship with the Irish Republic, which has "blossomed" into a firm friendship.
Her four-day visit to Ireland in May -- the first by a British monarch since independence -- was fondly recalled in her seven-minute address.
She has delivered her annual message every Christmas since ascending to the British throne in 1952, but mentions of Ireland were confined to the Troubles and the peace process.
In her recorded message, which was filmed in Buckingham Palace's 1844 room, the queen made explicit mention of her trip here.
"This past year has also seen some memorable and historic visits, to Ireland and from America. The spirit of friendship, so evident in both these nations, can fill us all with hope.
"Relationships that years ago were once so strained have through sorrow and forgiveness blossomed into long term friendship.
"It is through this lens of history that we should view the conflicts of today and so give us hope for tomorrow."
As she reflected publicly for the first time about her historic trip, footage of her visit with former president Mary McAleese to the Garden of Remembrance, where those who fought for Irish freedom are honoured, was played.
The Garden of Remembrance event, which took place on the first day of the visit, was one of the major highlights of the historic week and saw the queen bow her head to Ireland's patriot dead in a moment of healing between Britain and Ireland.
Tourism bosses will hope the renewed exposure during a broadcast watched by millions will entice British visitors to come here.
Previous mentions of Ireland in the Christmas message usually focused on the Troubles. In 1987, the queen spoke of the victims of the Enniskillen bombing, where 11 people were killed during a ceremony to mark Remembrance Sunday, when Britain pays tribute to its war dead.
Yesterday's message mostly focused on the bonds of family and friendship, and she used Britain's relationship with Ireland and the United States to expand on her theme.
"In this past year my family and I have been inspired by the courage and hope we have seen in so many ways in Britain, in the Commonwealth and around the world.
"We've seen that it's in hardship that we often find strength from our families; it's in adversity that new friendships are sometimes formed; and it's in a crisis that communities break down barriers and bind together to help one another."
The queen's husband, Prince Philip, is currently recuperating in hospital following treatment for a blocked coronary artery at the Norfolk royal country retreat in Sandringham.
But she said the importance of family was brought home to her and Prince Philip this year because of two royal weddings that took place -- Prince William's married Kate Midleton in a huge wedding in London last April, and Zara Phillips married England rugby player Mike Tindall.
"The importance of family has, of course, come home to Prince Philip and me personally this year with the marriages of two of our grandchildren, each in their own way a celebration of the God-given love that binds a family together."
The broadcast featured performances by the band of the Irish Guards, a regiment that was formed in 1900 to commemorate Irish soldiers who died in the Boer Wars.
The red dress worn by the queen during the broadcast was designed by royal designer Angela Kelly -- the woman behind the emerald green outfit worn by the queen during her Irish visit.