Two heads of state renew a friendship first forged in 1998

QUEEN ELIZABETH II was formally welcomed to Ireland by the President Mary McAleese at Áras an Uachtaráin yesterday at her first official engagement at the start of her historic four-day state visit.

The two heads of state renewed a friendship first forged in 1998 when they jointly unveiled a tower to the Irish World War I dead in Belgium.

The queen accompanied by her husband, Prince Philip, arrived under an army motor cycle escort in a Land Rover from Casement Aerodrome at Baldonnel.

Welcomed by the President and her husband Martin McAleese the royal couple were brought to the State reception room where they signed the visitors’ book.

To sign the visitor’s book, the queen sat down in the Áras’s lavish state ballroom, which dates from 1802.

She arrived with the President looking relaxed and the two women, who have met a number of times before, chatted animatedly. They were followed by the duke and Dr McAleese.

Under an ornate Regency-style brass chandelier commemorating the Act of Union of 1801 with an intertwining shamrock, rose and thistle — the national floral emblems of Ireland, England and Scotland — the queen took off her right black glove and picked up a pen to write her signature. From there, the queen returned outside where she was escorted by the Chief of Staff of the Defence Forces, Lt Gen Seán McCann for a formal greeting ceremony.

The officer in charge of the Guard of Honour, Capt Thomas Holmes, paid compliments to the British monarch announcing her name in Irish — “Banríon Eilís a Dó”.

The national anthems of both Ireland and Britain were played by the Defence Forces Military Bands as simultaneously a 21-gun salute was sounded by the 2nd Field Artillery Regiment from McKee Barracks in Dublin and overhead there was a fly past by four Air Corps aircraft.

The queen inspected the guard of honour comprised of members of the Defence Forces drawn from the Army, Naval Service and Air Corps, while a piece of music composed specially for the occasion by Riverdance composer, Bill Whelan, was played.

Afterwards, the queen was introduced to a number of special guests including Taoiseach Enda Kenny; the Irish Ambassador to Britain, Bobby McDonagh; the Government’s secretary general, Dermot McCarthy and Garda Commissioner, Martin Callinan.

The President and Queen Elizabeth then adjourned inside the building for a private meeting before re-appearing in the grounds of the Áras for a formal tree-planting ceremony.

An oak tree planted by the British monarch’s great-grandmother, Queen Victoria, during a visit in 1853 was pointed out to the queen by head gardener Robert Norris.

The queen followed in the tradition established by her ancestor by planting an Irish oak.

The royal party then returned to the Áras for a lunch with a starter of smoked, free-range chicken, onion marmalade and boxty; a main course of roast turbot with buttermilk ice cream and a compote of rhubarb with caramel for dessert.

Among the guests for lunch were the queen’s lady in waiting, Lady Diana Farnham; British Foreign Secretary William Hague; former SDLP leader John Hume; former Northern Ireland first minister David Trimble; sports commentator Micheál Ó Muircheartaigh; pianist Barry Douglas; novelist Edna O’Brien; and celebrity chef Rachel Allen.

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