'It's business really' - Britain's Prince Harry and Meghan Markle meet Taoiseach as they begin two-day 'mini-moon'
Meghan Markle and Prince Harry have touched down in Ireland in their first official tour abroad since their May wedding.
Their first foreign trip since getting married has been billed as a ‘mini-moon’ but Prince Harry told Taoiseach Leo Varadkar: “It’s business really.”
The newlyweds landed at Dublin Airport this afternoon after 3pm, hot-footing it to Ireland after attending an event to mark the centenary of the Royal Air Force (RAF) this morning in London.
They will only be in the capital for less than 48 hours as part of the ‘Brexit charm offensive’ strategy, wherein senior members of the British royal family have been visiting key neighbours in the European Union over the last 18 months.
The couple arrived hand in hand, as is their signature, and greeted awaiting press and security. Meghan, the new Duchess of Sussex, opted for an emerald green Givenchy crepe dress and wore her hair in a sleek low side bun.
Nearby nine Garda motorbike outriders were waiting to escort the couple to a meeting with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, who will formally welcome the couple to his country.
The first port of call for the royal couple after touching down in Dublin was Government Buildings where they were welcomed to Ireland by the Taoiseach.
Although their brief encounter last less than half hour, Mr Varadkar and the Duke of Sussex managed to discuss family, rugby and of course, the weather.
Rather a red carpet on Merrion Street, the Prince and Meghan Markle were greeted by scorched grass which the Taoiseach was quick to explain was the result of the ongoing drought.
The Taoiseach gave the couple a short tour of his offices, starting with the building’s corner which was laid by Harry’s great-great-great grandfather Edward VII in April 1904.
On that occasion King Edward’s appeared to schedule in plenty of leisure time, attending four race meetings.
But when Mr Varadkar asked the Prince whether he would get any “private time” during his whistle-stop tour of Dublin, Harry replied: “It’s business really.”
Inside the couple were led up the ceremonial staircase where they observed the famous stained glass window, called ‘My Four Green Fields’.
Mr Varadkar explained that the window, designed by artist Evie Hone in 1939, depicts the four provinces of Ireland.
Prince Harry asked “Which one are you from?” to which Mr Varadkar laughed: “Leinster, of course. I’m a Dublin man.”
The Taoiseach noted that he was only in Prince Harry’s company on one previous occasion at an Ireland versus England rugby match.
Before going to Mr Varadkar’s office for a private meeting, Harry and Meghan met a small number of the Taoiseach’s close staff.
“You’re very busy. What time do you normally knock off,” he asked, before being directly introduced to 18-year-old Tabitha Owen who was having a work experience with a difference.
The Londoner is in the Taoiseach’s office for a short internship, having recently qualified to study Politics, Philosophy and Economics in Oxford.
Mr Varadkar remarked that his own sister works at Great Ormond Street Hospital in London.
The Taoiseach then invited them to sign the visitors’ book which Harry did after some hesitation as to whether he should let his new bride go first or not.
Ms Markle gave small push in the direction of the book but even after scribbling, the Prince was still unsure. “I never write it big enough,” he said before passing the pen.
Ms Markle took great care signing her first foreign visitors’ book as an official member of the royal family, leading Harry to declare: “You do it much nicer than me.”
Whatever issues the Taoiseach may have had with the drought outside, there was no such problems in his office where 14 bottles of Ballygowan laid out in case they were thirsty.
The media were ushered out while the Taoiseach and two royals held a short meeting behind closed doors.
Around ten minutes later they re-emerged into the Dublin sun with Prince Harry repeatedly saying “thank you, thank you” as he made his way to a waiting car.
Sources say that during the private meeting, the Taoiseach and Prince Harry discussed the possibility of the Irish Defence Forces participating in the Invictus Games.
The Games, which were created by the Prince, offer an opportunity for wounded, injured or sick armed services personnel to take part in sports including wheelchair basketball and indoor rowing. It was noted that other countries which limit their military activities to peacekeeping have taken part in past.
The Duchess told the Taoiseach that she is an honour member of the Philosophical Society in Trinity College.
And it was noted that she studied on NWU Chicago where Mr Varadkar’s partner Dr Matt Barrett works at the University Hospital.
Prince Harry mentioned on several occasions how much his father, Charles, enjoys visiting Ireland.
He also asked about the housing and homelessness crisis facing the country.
“The Duke was also very interested in our tech industry and the Duchess has an interest in encouraging women taking up STEM subjects,” the source said.
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The couple stopped off for a quick costume change after visiting the Taoiseach in government buildings earlier in the day.
Markle wore an Emilia Wickstead cocktail dress for the garden party and stood on stage beside Harry while he addressed the crowd.
“Tánaiste, Ambassador, a Dhaoine Uaisle,” the Duke of Sussex said addressing the 300 guests gathered at Glencairn before adding hastily. “I hope I said that right.”
In his speech he thanked Tanaiste Simon Coveney for attending the event and for accompanying his father Prince Charles around Cork last month.
“I’m glad to hear he didn’t bore you to tears,” he said.
“My father was telling us last week how much he had enjoyed his recent visit; but said that each of his visits, over the years, holds a special place in his memory.
“My grandmother, The Queen, also spoke of her own visit in 2011 and the fantastic welcome that she too received.
“Standing here with you on this beautiful evening, it is easy to see why Ireland has such a special place in the hearts of my family and indeed, all those who come here.
“We’re so pleased to be here, for our first official international visit together as a married couple, and we hope it will be the first of many.
“This is a very special relationship between two proud, sovereign countries. We share common values; culture, business links, family ties, and possibly a similar sense of humour.
“Our relationship is of course informed by our history, but it is also one which is now dynamic and forward looking,” he added.
"I have the greatest confidence that the friendship, collaboration and mutual understanding that our two countries have built up over the years will endure and it will grow.
"I will finish by drawing on the words of President Higgins during his extraordinarily successful visit to the UK in 2014, which we still remember with admiration. He quoted the traditional Irish saying: ‘Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireann na daoine’ - “we live in each other’s shadows” - we shield each other, and rely on each other for shelter.
"That sentiment is as apt now as it was then, as we draw strength from one another as neighbours, partners, and above all friends."
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Vicky Phelan, the Limerick mother who exposed the CervicalCheck controversy was left 'stunned' and 'gobsmacked' when Meghan Markle told her she had been following her journey.
Phelan was one of the guests attending the royal garden party at the British Ambassador's Glencairn residence.
"Meghan said she knew who I was and that she had been following my story. I thought 'Oh my god that is amazing'. That was a bonus.
"I knew people knew [my story] elsewhere but you don't think the Royals watch anything like this.... I was amazed I was gobsmacked. I just said 'thank you' - I couldn't believe she knew who I was to be honest. She just said you're doing great work. Keep doing it."
Guests were assembled in “pods” on the lawn of the ambassador’s residence and the royal couple circulated and spoke to groups of people.
Mrs Phelan said the couple also discussed mental health. "The pod I was in was all about health and well being," she said.
"They were quite relaxed."
Mrs Phelan said she had used the party as an opportunity to network to keep awareness about the scandal.
It’s unclear where they will be staying overnight, details of which are being kept private for security reasons, but it’s believed they will either be residing at Farmleigh or Glencairn House.
Tomorrow, they will be meeting President Michael D. Higgins at Áras an Uachtaráin, followed by a trip to see the Book of Kells at Trinity College Dublin, Croke Park and the EPIC, the Irish Immigration Museum.
It’s the second time they have visited our shores this year after a surprise day trip to Belfast in March in the run-up to their wedding.
Meghan has particularly strong ties to Ireland, not only does she boast roots dating back to the 1800s, but she made two separate trips in 2013 and 2014 as her international profile was soaring thanks in part to her role in Suits and her work as a charity advocate.
She spoke at the 2014 One Young World conference at the Convention Centre and wrote an essay for the Irish Independent on the importance of gender equality.
In 2013, however, she enjoyed a much more casual experience of the city after receiving Trinity College Philosophical Society's Bram Stoker Award, and later enjoyed an evening of celebrations at Dicey’s Garden and Krystle Nightclub.
It’s believed she is particularly fond of Dublin, thanks in part to her trips here. Harry has never made an official visit here – although his father, Britain’s Prince Charles and his wife Camilla have made two trips around the country in recent years. Queen Elizabeth hosted a state dinner at Dublin Castle in 2011.
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Security is especially tight, in keeping with previous royal visits, with undercover Gardai moving among crowds of fans and certain details of their itinerary are being kept private.
Later this year, they will visit Fiji, New Zealand, Australia and Tonga. In comparison, Kate and Prince William visited Canada for their first overseas tour.