It was a nice touch by Irish president Michael D Higgins to dedicate his state visit to Britain to the memory of the millions of Irish emigrants who have made Britain home over the centuries.

Compared to other emigrant destinations Britain was often a hard station for those who arrived.

As the New York Times reported on Monday, signs saying “no Irish or blacks” were hanging up until the recent past.

Higgins noted that he himself had worked in Britain as a young man, as had several other members of his family.

Indeed, it would be hard to find an Irish family that did not have relatives across the water or who does not have close links to Britain.

Times were especially hard during the 1970s and 1980s with an IRA campaign that targeted civilian targets and killed indiscriminately.

The Irish in Britain suffered many savage injustices as a result, the Birmingham Six and Guildford Four cases just the most infamous ones.

Back then there was a Paddy-bashing culture that was deeply ingrained thanks to The Troubles. Irish jokes were a late night staple as were assaults on Irish by young thugs after a night out.

There were many champions of the Irish even back then with leading members of the Labour Party, such as Kevin McNamara, Tony Benn and Ken Livingstone, standing tall.

It is doubtful if there was a more important Irish newspaper abroad during that black period than the Irish Post, which stood up fearlessly for a community under siege.

Little wonder then that when the Post was forced to shut down a few years back, the outcry in the community was so great the Irish Post was willed back into existence by the same community.

Michael D Higgins with his poor, West of Ireland roots and his sense of concern for the less well off is a perfect ambassador for this state visit.

He has shown an acuity of insight into the emigrant’s plight that is heartening and his dedication of this visit to those emigrants is a deeply appropriate act.

The Queen’s visit to Ireland in 2011 was a harbinger of a far greater era of cooperation between the two countries.

The return trip by President Higgins is a triumph too for the new era between the two countries, one that has room for all shades of opinion as the presence of Sinn Fein Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness at the state dinner makes clear.

Symbols are substance so often in the Irish and the British relationship and the harp and the crown have never been on more equal terms and with more in common than now.

The Higgins visit is a welcome acknowledgment of that and the beginning of a new era in relationships between both sides.

Long may it last.