Northern Ireland

Irish President Michael D Higgins moved by UK reception

Queen farewell to Higgins
Image caption The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh say goodbye to President Higgins and his wife at Windsor Castle

Irish President Michael D Higgins has flown home after the end of his historic four-day state visit to the UK.

The Queen hosted two banquets for her Irish guest at Windsor Castle and he addressed both Houses of Parliament.

Mr Higgins and his wife Sabina visited Stratford-upon-Avon and Coventry on their final day.

Before leaving for Dublin Mr Higgins said he had been moved by the reception he and his wife had received.

He also told those who were unhappy with the visit to "think of all the things we have in common".

And when he was asked about the involvement of former IRA leader Martin McGuinness in the visit, Mr Higgins said it was "very important that all those involved participated fully".

Mr McGuinness, who is Northern Ireland's deputy first minister, attended the state banquet on Tuesday and joined in the toast to the Queen.


The Sinn Féin MLA said his participation in the royal reception was in aid of "conflict resolution and reconciliation".

The presidential visit was aimed at celebrating and strengthening British and Irish links.

It followed the Queen's first state visit to the Republic of Ireland in 2011, which was widely hailed as a diplomatic triumph and a milestone in Anglo-Irish relations.

Mr and Mrs Higgins said goodbye to the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh at Windsor Castle on Friday morning, before leaving for their final engagements.

They travelled to Stratford-upon-Avon to visit the birthplace of William Shakespeare and the home of the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC).

In addition to his political career, Mr Higgins is a well-known poet and author, while his wife is an actress.

Image caption President Higgins and his wife Sabina toured the wig and costume room at the Royal Shakespeare Company
Image caption The President and his wife Sabina visited the birthplace of William Shakespeare during their engagement in Stratford-upon-Avon
Image caption Standing in front of the cast of Henry IV Part I, President Higgins delivers his speech at the Royal Shakespeare Company
Image caption A large crowd turned out to greet President Higgins at Coventry's old cathedral
Image caption Mr and Mrs Higgins arrive in Coventry, the final stop on their four-day visit
Image caption Patricia Southall and her mother Bridget Connelly, who is originally from Galway, were among the crowd in Coventry

President Higgins made a speech about the English language, its role in Ireland, and about the shared dialogue between two islands.

He said: "It is the business of living souls to breathe life into words, and I have no doubt but that our long conversation in a shared language will continue into the far future to breathe new life, and the lightning of our different imaginations, into a common human purpose."

Mr Higgins was later presented with The Complete Works of Shakespeare, signed by the acting company, and he gifted the RSC a copy of The Book of Kells.

They then travelled to Coventry for a tour of its current cathedral and the ruins of the old building that was bombed during World War II.

They also attended a reception for members of the Irish community at St Mary's Guildhall in the city.

During his four-day tour, Mr Higgins met Prime Minister David Cameron at Downing Street and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg at Buckingham Palace.

'Gracious welcome'

He also attended several events marking the contribution of the Irish community to public life in Britain.

They included business leaders, charity workers and NHS staff.

On Thursday evening, the president attended a concert celebrating Irish music and culture at London's Royal Albert Hall.

At the event, Mr Higgins thanked the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh for their "gracious welcome and warm hospitality" throughout his UK trip.

He said the preparation they had made for his state visit was "reflective of the true and deep friendship that now exists between Ireland and the United Kingdom".

Image caption The Queen shook hands with Sinn Féin's Martin McGuinness and other politicians from Northern Ireland at a Windsor Castle reception on Thursday

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