In an historic first, Queen Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh hosted a reception for Irish community members who have played a significant role in Britain at Buckingham Palace on Wednesday evening.
Speaking afterwards a palace spokesman summed up the festive occasion.
“Her Majesty seemed to enjoy the craic,” he said.
The reception was being held in advance of the visit of Ireland’s President Michael D. Higgins next month which is being awaited in much anticipation. It will be the first State visit to the UK undertaken by a president of Ireland.
The intention is to build on the relationship that emerged when Queen Elizabeth made her historic visit to Ireland three years ago.
Among the Irish guests were Niall Horan of One Direction, X Factor judge and boy band manager Louis Walsh, Irish designer Orla Kiely and Cork fishmonger Pat O’Connell, who became a local celebrity when Queen Elizabeth stopped of at his fish stall in Cork during her state visit to Ireland in 2011.
The Irish Post reported that over 300 people – from the worlds of business, politics, the arts, showbiz, sport and charity – attended the event.
The Irish Ambassador Dan Mulhall and his wife Greta also attended along with Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Theresa Villiers.
Mulhall said, “This is a huge occasion for the Irish community in Britain. It has made a huge contribution to Britain, to Ireland and to British-Irish relations and this is a great recognition of the contribution they [the guests] have made by her Majesty in hosting this event in advance of the state visit.”
One Direction singer Niall Horan, was among those who met the Queen.
“It is an absolute honor to step inside this building and meet the lady herself,” said the 20-year-old who is from County Westmeath. “Obviously when Irish and English people get together it is always a good occasion.”
On being invited to join the prestigious occasion, he added, “I saw an envelope which had the Buckingham Palace royal stamp on top and it was a bit ‘OK what is this about’ and I got a bit of a shock and here we are three weeks later."
Cork fishmonger Pat O’Connell, who met the Queen at the city’s English Market during her visit in 2011, again made the queen crack up.
“Well, she recognized me anyway,” he said. “We had a joke back in 2011 where I told her that I was more nervous than I had been since I got married 30 years earlier. Well tonight I told her I was better dressed than I have been for 30 years,” he joked. “Who would have thought even three years ago that the Queen of England was going to visit Cork or going to visit the English market or going to visit Ireland. I mean it was an incredible visit and three years later to get an invitation to Buckingham Palace, what can you say really – fantastic.”
Comedienne Pauline McGlynn and Fr Ted co-creator Graham Linehan were delighted to get invited. “We have no idea what to expect, “If you are a writer and you turn down a chance to get inside walls like these then you would be drummed out of the business.”
A group of UK-based Comhaltas musicians performed as the guests arrived at the reception, which began at 6pm.
Also attending the reception on behalf of the British Royal Family were the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester and the Duke of Kent.