Belfast Telegraph

Paralympic winner Kelly Gallagher beams with pride as she meets the Queen during gala night at Windsor Castle

By Mehreen Khan

Paralympic winner Kelly Gallagher beamed with pride as the Queen asked to look at her gold medal at Windsor Castle.

Inspirational Kelly won Britain's first ever Winter Paralympic Gold at the Sochi Games in the Super-G women's skiing event.

And last night she was one of more than 200 guests from the worlds of politics, business and athletics who joined the Queen for a Northern Ireland-themed reception.

The event, part of the State visit of the Irish President Michael D Higgins, was held to recognise the contribution of individuals who have furthered co-operation, enterprise and culture between Britain and Northern Ireland.

Bangor athlete Kelly and her guide Charlotte Evans were delighted when the Queen requested a viewing of the prized medal.

"The Queen asked me if she could hold the medal. She said that when her granddaughter Zara won a medal, she wanted to show it to the whole world," said Kelly.

"It's amazing to be at an event like this and to be able to celebrate sport."

Kelly wasn't the only golden girl present. Mary Peters – an Olympic gold medallist from 1972 and now the Queen's representative in Belfast – was also at the reception. She described the State visit as sensational.

She said: "I regularly meet Prince Philip and the Queen when they are in Ireland. Somebody asked the Duke of Edinburgh if he knew me and he joked: 'Yes, I've known her since she was a little girl'."

Guests included First Minister Peter Robinson, Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness and Secretary of State Theresa Villiers.

Deputy First Minister McGuinness shook hands with the Queen – for the second time, after he met her at the Lyric Theatre in 2012 – and congratulated her on her role in peace-making in Ireland.

He said her invitation to him had signalled how far ahead she was of unionist leaders. "She is way ahead of everybody else and everybody else needs to catch up," he added.

"The Queen's visit to Dublin and how she conducted herself – her words at the memorial and Dublin Castle and how she reached out to all victims without differentiating – were all hugely impressive."

Mr Robinson said Mr McGuiness's presence at the State visit hailed a "new era of respect and tolerance" between the two countries.

"We have to build upon respecting each other's traditions – sadly sometimes lacking – but if you see that Her Majesty has been willing to invite Martin McGuiness, and Martin McGuiness agreeing to come, all demonstrates that there is a new era of respect and tolerance," said Mr Robinson.

"In terms of the north and the south, we've had the best relationship with the Irish Government we've ever had in our history."

QUOTES

"She had many reasons not to meet me, and me her, but I think we've risen above that and seen the contribution that these big acts of reconciliation can have.

"I'm overjoyed for the President. He is my President and I'm delighted he's been accorded such a great welcome. The week will be noted for its spirit of generosity and peace-making."

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness

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