It was meant to be Harry and Meghan’s moment but their spotlight was very nearly stolen by another audacious couple.
Bród and Síoda, President Michael D Higgins’ loyal dogs, couldn’t resist bounding across the lawns to meet the royal couple and lick, rather than press, the flesh.
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex happily went along with the impromptu addition to their brief schedule at Áras an Uachtaráin, Harry swiftly extending the hand of friendship to be sniffed and drooled over while Meghan, after initially taking stock of the Bernese mountain dogs who are mountain by both name and stature, also eagerly joined in with the ear stroking and chin tickling.
The royal couple arrived at the Áras at 9.30am after the short journey from their overnight accommodation at Farmleigh, and were escorted through the Francini corridor lined by marble columns topped by the busts of presidents past before being met by the President and his wife Sabina in the State Reception Room.
There they posed for photographs before signing the official visitors’ book, the formalities only broken when a reporter, breaking the ‘no questions’ rule, boldly asked Harry if football was coming home.
“Most definitely,” he replied without hesitation.
President Higgins, Sabina, and the dogs then escorted their visitors through the gardens, where the neat beds of red geraniums and purple salvia added a dash of colour to the yellowing drought-suffering lawns.
In a concession to aesthetics, the small fountains were kept running — much to the relief of Bród, who enjoyed a drink to cool him beneath his heavy coat while he waited for the royals to catch up. The two couples chatted easily as they strolled, Prince Harry with President Higgins and Meghan, wearing a Roland Mouret dress, with Sabina.
The President and Prince Harry have met on numerous occasions in recent years, notably during President Higgins’ State visit to Britain in 2014, but also further afield during events to mark the centenaries of the First World War battles at Gallipoli and the Somme, and they clearly enjoyed each other’s company.
Their first stop was at an oak tree planted by Harry’s grandmother, Queen Elizabeth II, during her historic State visit to Ireland in 2011. Sabina provided the detail, the royals provided the
interested ears, and while the tree is a rather lanky specimen, all agreed it was growing very well.
They then moved on to the Peace Bell, installed in 2008 to mark the 10th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement. The bell, which first chimed in the 1800s, hangs on supports made from the trunks of two oak trees, one from Co Antrim and one from Dublin, and serves as a symbol of reconciliation.
Harry stepped forward to uncoil the rope hanging from the bell, handed a length of it to Meghan and, giving a count of one, two, three, the couple tugged in synchrony to ring out a single chime.
The guests and their hosts then spent around 15 minutes in private in the gardens, taking in two more recent additions to the outdoor art collection — the giant bronze acorn created by Rachel Joynt to commemorate the 1916 Rising and all that grew from it, and The Plough and the Stars by John Behan unveiled in May this year to commemorate the 1913 Lockout and the start of the labour movement in Ireland.
When they all emerged for farewells at the front of the Áras, there was more chat, more smiles and more attention demanded by the dogs who didn’t have to ask twice.
As they waved their goodbyes to the President and Sabina and their staff, Meghan also had a little one for Bród and Síoda. Work done for the day, the happy pair retreated into the Áras,
tails wagging gently behind them.
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