“It made me proud to be Irish, and to be a Corkman. My mother would have been so proud.”
That was the reaction from fishmonger Pat O’Connell yesterday as he reflected on his private audience with Queen Elizabeth before attending a reception for some 300 people at Buckingham Palace on Tuesday, to celebrate the contribution made by Irish citizens in Britain.
The city’s unofficial ambassador was among a select group handpicked to attend a private audience with the queen before the main function. He said his late mother Kay, who established the family business in the historic English Market, would have been proud.
Pat said: “I came through the main door and a man came over to me and said, ‘Are you Pat O’Connell?’
“And I thought, ‘Oh God, what have I done now?’ He asked me to follow him upstairs. We were put in to a room and were told the queen would be in soon. I was way out of my comfort zone but there was no need to be nervous.
“When the queen came in, she recognised me straight away and said, ‘Oh, you’re here. Did you bring any fish?’” he joked.
“Underneath it all, she’s just an ordinary woman with a great sense of fun.”
Pat said they chatted about how much she enjoyed her state visit to Ireland in 2011, and that she commented on the “buzz” in the room as the Irish community mingled.
Pat flew home from London with wife Margaret last night and will be back behind his stall this morning.
UCC graduate Emma Verling, a native of Waterford who completed her BSc and PhD at the then Department of Zoology, Ecology, and Plant Science at the college, also attended the reception. “It was a wonderful evening — a bit surreal but it was very memorable. It was a real honour to be part of such an historic event,” she said.
The reception served as a curtain-raiser to President Michael D Higgins’s visit to Britain — the first such visit by an Irish head of state. The President and wife Sabina will be the Queen’s guests on April 8-11.
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