The Queen put the seal on one of her most significant state visits with a spur-of-the-moment walkabout, before hinting at a return to Ireland.
Twenty-five thousand people lined the streets of Cork, cheering and waving the county colours, sparking the royal’s impromptu meet-and-greet despite intense security fears.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny seized the chance to repay the Queen’s personal touch by inviting her and the Duke of Edinburgh to return, just as they boarded a plane home.
Buckingham Palace and Irish Government aides have been highly impressed by the unprecedented success of the four-day trip, which has seen repeated and deeply poignant reconciliation.
A palace insider summed up its hugely historic importance: “In the Queen’s reign it will go down as one of the most significant.”
The Cork walkabout was the only opportunity the Queen has had to meet “ordinary” people during the visit.
A similar unscheduled stop in Dublin was never on the cards, with huge swathes of the capital under lockdown amid fears of a dissident terrorist attack and threats of street violence.
In Cork, the protest of about 350 hard-line republicans was dwarfed by the tens of thousands lining the Queen’s route through the city.
Aides revealed the Queen wanted to get close to the waiting crowds, and made the last minute-decision to break from a tightly-guarded schedule herself.
“She’s been very touched by the warmth and generosity of the Irish people,” a Buckingham Palace spokeswoman said.
“We can only thank the President Mary McAleese and the Irish people for the warmth they have shown.”
“It was a last-minute addition and the impetus behind it would have come from the Queen.”
The generous atmosphere helped bring the four days in Dublin, Kildare, Tipperary and Cork to a satisfactory close.
The Taoiseach saw the Queen off from Cork airport and said the visit heralded a new era in Anglo-Irish relations.
“At the bottom of the steps of the steps I said ’Your Majesty, would you like to come back again some time?’ and she said: ’Yes, I’d very much like to do that’,” he said.
“On behalf of the Government, and to the Irish people – Ireland responded magnificently to this visit by Her Majesty. Ireland this week measured up to the highest global standards. We can be very proud.”
The ’Rebel County’ of Cork had been a massive security headache for police and royal protection officers.
But as the Queen walked the 150 yards in front of crowds, 10 deep in places, she stopped every few steps to chat with well-wishers and was greeted by schoolchildren eager to shake hands.
A Buckingham Palace spokesman also said the trip had been a success.
“The visit has gone extraordinarily well and whatever our hopes and expectations before the visit they have been transcended,” he said.
“There’s no doubt at all about the significance of the visit.
“The visit was heavily punctuated by some poignant moments that touched the royal party and the people she was meeting – particularly the Garden of Remembrance and the state dinner.”
The Queen’s speech, her only public address over the four days, even drew cautious praise from Sinn Féin – the only political party to reject invites to attend the war memorial.
One of the party’s mayors, Michael Browne, went further and shook the Queen’s hand in Cashel.
The were two other significant acts by the Queen. Tuesday’s dignified wreath-laying was seen as a gesture to those who died for Ireland’s independence.
Commemorating the war dead was also seen as significant. The Queen’s recognition at Islandbridge was the culmination of years of efforts by President Mary McAleese to ensure history remembers the British and Irish soldiers of the First World War as equals.
The last two days have seen the Queen given time to indulge her own passions.
Before touring Cork, Ireland’s leading thoroughbred breeder and owner John Magnier hosted a private visit for her at his world famous Coolmore stud farm in County Tipperary.
The monarch, a keen horsebreeder, sends her mares to the renowned bloodstock centre, and saw the stallions including Galileo who commands a six-figure stud fee.