By Gráinne Ní Aodha, PA
President Michael D Higgins has remembered the “real warmth” and “charm” of Queen Elizabeth II as gifts from the late monarch to the Irish state were put on display at his official residence.
Speaking to reporters at Áras an Uachtaráin, in Dublin, he said the queen’s words during her historic 2011 visit to Ireland – that past actions should have been “done differently or not at all” – had been a “powerful statement”.
“That was a fairly straightforward statement about ‘let us not be trapped into categories’,” he said, adding that this was coupled with a “sustained interest” in Ireland.
— President of Ireland (@PresidentIRL) September 8, 2022
“I think in my statement yesterday I mentioned the particular interest Her Majesty had in matters Irish, and the incredible importance of her visit in 2011, but also the great warmth with which she and Prince Philip received Sabina and I in the return visit in 2014.”
He said that her warmth was “great” and “real”, and that he was impressed by her commitment to the “continuity” of Anglo-Irish relations.
“The warmth was real, (as were) the questions which she asked me, including questions which she asked me about Irish history,” he said.
“That I have been emphasising today: the ability to be able as it were for 70 years to engage with 14 prime ministers, now 15, and at the same time to be able to do so, not only with great dignity and with very well-informed knowledge of the complex things that were going on, but to be able to do so and at the same time retain all of the charm and strong warmth which I think she showed not only to us but she showed to her people and which I think is reflected very much in the reaction not only in Britain but abroad.”
Mr Higgins gave the statement on Friday evening, next to a table where gifts and letters from the late monarch were laid out on a table.
These included a copy of the Dubliners given to Mr Higgins during his 2014 visit to Windsor Castle, where the president gave the Queen a statue of the Irish racehorse Arkle.
The letter from the Queen, inviting Mr Higgins and his wife to visit Windsor Castle was also on display, as well as Mr Higgins’s reply.
A silver baluster jug engraved with the Irish harp on one side and the British royal cypher on the other was also on show; gifted by the Queen to then-Irish president Mary McAleese during her 2011 visit.
Earlier, Taoiseach Micheál Martin said that this visit had been “the crowing moment” of the peace process and the development of Anglo-Irish relations.
The Taoiseach said that the Queen had been a constant in the world political order and expressed Ireland’s understanding of the “enormous change” her passing represented.
Tributes have poured in from across the world upon the death on Thursday of Britain’s longest-reigning monarch, who served as the UK’s head of state for more than 70 years.
Speaking to reporters in Bray, Co Wicklow, Mr Martin said that the Queen’s most enduring legacy in an Irish context would “unquestionably” be her visit to Ireland in 2011.
He said that her trip to Cork as part of that visit would be “a visit that will never be forgotten”.
Political leaders in Ireland have noted how the Queen’s 2011 visit, the first by a British monarch to Ireland since it gained independence, set a new tone for Anglo-Irish relations in the following years.
Mr Martin said: “In the context of all that has gone on between Britain and Ireland over the centuries, (the visit) definitely closed one chapter and opened up a new chapter, and it was the culmination really of all the work that went into the peace process and the Good Friday Agreement.
“The head of state of the UK coming to Ireland represented the crowning moment, if you like, for all that had gone before in terms of peacebuilding and in terms of creating a new political order on the island of Ireland.”
Mr Martin continued: “I think King Charles is very familiar with Ireland, he has a keen interest in Irish affairs and I met him on a number of occasions during his visits to Ireland, with the Queen Consort, and I have no doubt that he will continue that interest in Ireland.
“Particularly, he has an interest in climate change, biodiversity, wildlife, and I do foresee opportunities to dovetail with that interest that he has, with some of the initiatives we are taking in terms of preserving biodiversity into the future.
“He’s also obviously committed to doing what he can in the role that he now will have, to underpin good relations between Ireland and Britain and between the different traditions on the island of Ireland.”
He said that inviting the King to Ireland would be a matter for the president.
Following her death, the King said that during the period of royal mourning – set to last from now until seven days after the funeral of the late Queen – “my family and I will be comforted and sustained by our knowledge of the respect and deep affection in which the Queen was so widely held”.