Dubious music choice but banquet fit for a queen

IT had all gone so well. Mid-way through the Queen’s visit there had been no disruptions, no mishaps and no unpleasantness.

At least none that made it on to her majesty’s radar. And then someone made a dubious musical choice with which to welcome her to the glamour event of the itinerary.

As she made her way into the banquet at Dublin Castle last night, her arrival was heralded by a group of traditional Irish musicians, included uileann pipe master Liam O’Flynn, striking up a spirited rendition of “Battle-axe Landing”.

Naturally no offence was intended and probably her majesty didn’t notice anyway, uilleann pipery not being particularly common around Buckingham Palace. Besides, her senses would have been fully occupied by the wondrous smells wafting into the dining room courtesy of a mouthwatering menu.

It was an upscale version of the familiar beef or salmon selection but with wonderful adornments like lemon balm jelly, wild garlic leaf and Carrageen set West Cork cream all rounded off by a plate of mixed Irish cheeses with names like song titles.

Or possibly she was preoccupied by her speech which is of course what everyone in attendance was most interested in. Although the grub would have come a close second.

Some were really keen to hear what she had to say, arriving up to an hour and a half before the guest of honour. Early-comers included Brian O’Driscoll and Amy Huberman, Mary and Nick Robinson — Mary deviating from the dress code to look elegant but liberated in trousers — and Peter and Iris Robinson.

For Iris, former MP and wife of Northern Ireland first minister Peter, it was the latest in only a handful of public appearances she has made since quitting politics almost 18 months ago following revelations of an affair with a toy boy lover for whom she secured substantial enterprise grants.

She looked relaxed in a figure-hugging turquoise creation and was no doubt looking forward to some interesting chit-chat with Chief Justice John Murray and British Ambassador Julian King between whom she was to be seated.

Shortly after this first batch of the 170 guests were safely inside, the castle courtyard was serenaded by sounds of a different kind as fireworks, sirens, whistles and helicopters from some to-do outside the secure perimeter got under way.

Things had quietened down by the time Taoiseach Enda Kenny and his wife Fionnuala arrived, followed swiftly by British Prime Minister David Cameron, his foreign secretary William Hague and a host of other dignitaries who looked splendid even if nobody could be sure of their names.

President Mary McAleese, striking in a flowing royal blue affair, came next with her husband Dr Martin McAleese, trumpeters positioned across the courtyard heralding their arrival.

At quarter to eight the lady herself arrived, wearing a long white gown topped by a feathery creation that looked a little bit like she’d been helping the caterers pluck chickens for the dinner. She also wore a real live tiara that glistened handsomely in the dying evening sun but most be murder to wear after a long day being polite and interested.

She continued in a similar vein inside, greeting each and every guest on the list that was a mix of politics, celebrity, culture, commerce and academia.

Then it was down to business with the speeches to be got out of the way before the dinner was served.

President McAleese went first, raising a chuckle as she customarily does, with references to our new-found sporting prowess in cricket and rugby.

But the Queen bettered her, earning a round of applause by addressing the guests with a well-practised and quite acceptable “A Chairde”.

Nice to think she felt among friends — whatever their musical tastes.

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