Following the death of Queen Elizabeth, Niall O'Dowd remembers his exciting tour of Buckingham Palace and reflects on the history the Royal family and the London residence has witnessed.

London: Occasionally you pinch yourself in life when you find yourself somewhere you never dreamed you would be.

I had that feeling when I found myself inside Buckingham Palace, home of the Queen and the royal family, and looking in on the room with the balcony where William and Kate had their first married kiss in public and the millions went wild.

If ever a room is steeped in history that is it, where generations of monarchs have made their public debut and young newly-married royals have waved their happy waves.

The crowds still gather outside Buckingham Palace in their thousands, the Beefeaters are still there, marching and standing and the security as you might expect, is very extensive.

The Royal family on the balcony at Buckingham Palace.

The Royal family on the balcony at Buckingham Palace.

Except I was looking down on all this, rather than looking up, pretty much sharing the view that Prince Philip, Prince William, Duchess Kate and Queen Elizabeth II had that day.

The British Empire was run from here, in name anyway, for centuries. The empire might be gone but the compelling power of the monarchy to attract and interest the world continues.

That is amply illustrated by the daily crowds and the continuing obsession with every aspect of royalty in the media, and not just the tabloids.

The idea of anointed ones sits easily these days in a celebrity-obsessed culture it seems.

So how did an Irishman from New York end up inside the British holy of holies?

Truth is a friend has business there and brought me in at the kind invitation of the member of the royal household he works with.

It is also rare when a place you visit conforms exactly to your idea of what it will look like.

Buckingham Palace, London.

Buckingham Palace, London.

It is opulent, historic, old-fashioned, exciting and also dramatic. It is actually a series of inner palaces all built around the outer shell as it was explained to me over, what else? English tea and biscuits.

The corridors are sweeping and long and at any moment you could envisage the queen or members of her court appearing.

She was actually in the palace on the day presenting some knighthoods and other awards so that is as close as this Irish American will ever get to meeting royalty.

If by some perchance I had run into her I’d have thanked her for her gracious and dramatic visit to Ireland, especially when she spoke in Gaelic and visited the site of the Irish Republican war dead at the Garden of Remembrance. She also excelled during her meeting with Sinn Fein leader Martin McGuinness.

The Queen and president Mary McAleese visiting the Garden of Remembrance, in Dublin, in 2011.

The Queen and president Mary McAleese visiting the Garden of Remembrance, in Dublin, in 2011.

The old hurts between the two countries no longer seem so raw and rubbed since those actions. The Irish peace process has brought in many players from the great and good to the ordinary and Elizabeth has played her part.

It was a superb act of reconciliation and stage management still remembered fondly by millions of Irish, akin to Tony Blair’s apology for the Famine.

King Charles will now no doubt appear on that same balcony when he does in that room I glimpsed, replete with the Chinese ornamentation gifts from a long ago emperor

And I will think for a moment of the day I saw that space and what it represented to millions of British. And I hope he will too become a figure of reconciliation between the Irish and British, enemies for so long but now on the cusp of a new relationship.

* Originally published in 2013, updated in September 2022.