Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 27 January 2015

Irish president Michael D Higgins to lay wreath during historic trip to UK

President Michael D Higgins is due to visit Britain
President Michael D Higgins is due to visit Britain

Michael D Higgins will lay a wreath at the grave of the unknown warrior from World War I during the first official trip of an Irish President to Britain.

The ceremony is aimed at addressing the "lessons of our shared history".

Exact details of the five-day visit of the president to Britain next month were revealed in London yesterday and include a viewing of the colours -- the regimental flags -- of the disbanded Irish Regiments in Windsor Castle.

These two particular events on the visit calendar were singled out as moments when the history of the two countries will be acknowledged.

"There will be parts of the programme which will reflect on the lessons of our shared history," a spokesman for the British Foreign Office said.

"Those moments reflect the wish of both countries looking ahead to the next decade to work together (so) that the centenaries of World War I and the Irish independence movement are commemorated in an appropriate way and done together."

The Irish ambassador to Britain, Dan Mulhall, said: "I think now, more and more, our government over the last decade or so has made a very big effort to recognise that that war was a war that involved hundreds of thousands of Irish people... from all kinds of political traditions," he said.

It comes after the historic moment in May 2011 when the Queen, during her first official state visit to the Republic of Ireland, bowed her head as she laid a wreath in the Garden of Remembrance. The gesture at the Republican shrine in Dublin was viewed as the drawing of a line under centuries of heartache and bloodshed.

The Republic's president and his wife Sabina will arrive into Heathrow on Monday, April 7. He will start his official duties the next day when he will be formally greeted by the Queen at Windsor Castle, where they will stay for the visit. After laying the wreath at Westminster Abbey, he will address both Houses of Parliament, the first time an Irish president has done so, before a state banquet at Windsor Castle.

On the Wednesday, among other events, he will visit 10 Downing Street for a lunch with Prime Minister David Cameron before a banquet that evening at the Guildhall, hosted by the mayor of the City of London. Thursday sees more engagements before a reception themed around Northern Ireland at Windsor Castle. He will return to Ireland on the Friday.

A spokesman for Buckingham Palace said it was highly unusual for a reception to be hosted before a visit -- as one was on Tuesday night -- and during the visit. "What you have is a genuine desire on the part of the queen to repay the kindness shown to her in Ireland coupled with an acute awareness of the historic nature of this occasion," he said.

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