The President of Ireland and his wife have received a full ceremonial welcome at Windsor Castle as they begin their formal state visit to the United Kingdom, the first state visit by an Irish head of state to the UK.
After the drive from the Irish embassy in London accompanied by the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall, the Presidential couple were greeted at the saluting dais before a short journey in the Australian State Coach to the castle to receive the full salute.
The Queen travelled in one carriage with the President and the Duke of Edinburgh, Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall travelled in another with the President’s wife, Mrs Higgins.
The full ceremonial welcome is traditionally accorded to visiting heads of state – there are usually two inbound state visits each year and during The Queen’s reign, Windsor Castle has been used to receive visiting heads of state on state visits – previously only Buckingham Palace was used.
After the short carriage ride into the Castle, the President took the salute before inspecting a guard of honour of the Grenadier Guards with the Duke of Edinburgh.
The Band of the Irish Guards played Irish tunes whilst the president inspected the guard of honour.
Michael Higgins’s visit to the United Kingdom is seen by many as the next step in affirming good relations with the Republic of Ireland after a troubled past. In an interview with BBC News, the President described his visit as “very important for the relationships between the people of Ireland and UK”.
This evening, Mr Higgins will be accorded a state banquet in Windsor Castle with members of the Royal Family, British and Irish dignitaries and other important personages present. During the banquet, speeches will be made by both Her Majesty and the President.
It is traditional for gifts to be exchanged also on a state visit. The Queen might, for example, offer an honorary award. On whether he had brought a gift for The Queen, the President said “Oh yes, something equine, something cultural. The warmth around this visit has been tremendous.”
Mr Higgins and his wife will be staying at Windsor Castle for their visit to the UK. They are set to return to Dublin on Friday after a week of engagements.
The Queen is in residence at Windsor Castle all this month during what’s known as Easter Court – she’ll be returning to Buckingham Palace early next month.
photo credit: BBC News/Live Stream