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Pride as Irish Guards chosen to lead birthday tribute for Queen

By Allan Preston

A senior member of the Irish Guards has spoken of the regiment's pride after being asked to lead the Queen's birthday celebrations for first time in eight years.

The official birthday is marked each June 17 by the epic military pageantry of Trooping the Colour.

Since last honoured with the traditional display, the Irish Guards have been deployed on operations in Afghanistan and Cyprus.

Prince William, who serves as the Irish Guards' regimental colonel, will also participate in the parade this year for the first time.

Captain Jimmy Parke from Larne is stationed at the Cavalry Barracks in Hounslow, west London.

He said: "As a battalion, this is the first time we've trooped the colour in front of Her Majesty since 2009.

"This is a really proud moment for the Irish Guards, especially to be able to have our colonel, Prince William, on parade as well." He added that key to the preparations will be the Irish Guards' faithful mascot Domhnall, a four-year-old Irish wolfhound, who will lead out the parade.

The canine mascot is unique to the Irish Guards, with each one named after ancient kings of Ireland.

Also looking forward to the big day is Captain Freddy Simpson.

"This will be our first Queen's Birthday Parade with HRH the Duke of Cambridge as our regimental colonel," he said.

"We are honoured that he has granted us this privilege and that he chose to marry in our uniform.

"HRH the Duchess of Cambridge has been kind enough to present a shamrock to the regiment at our St Patrick's Day parade over the last few years.

"The weekend before the Queen's Birthday Parade we will conduct a full dress rehearsal at which HRH the Duke will inspect us to ensure we are ready to go."

Captain Simpson said the final display would be the culmination of a long and intense period of preparation, with the men spending long days on the parade grounds in London and Pirbright.

He added: "Knowing the British weather, further rehearsals are conducted in case June 17 turns out wet - no corners are cut here.

"Also going on in the background is the enormous effort of ensuring that each soldier has an immaculate and well-fitting uniform; every man polishes his own boots to a mirror shine, but the tailors are the unsung heroes, working night and day in the run-up to the parade."

With rehearsals now well under way, the troops have just over a month to perfect and memorise thousands of steps and bars of music.

The Trooping the Colour ceremony originates from when regiments would carry their 'colour' into battle as a rallying point for the soldiers.

The colour was 'trooped' - or protected - so that the soldiers would recognise it on the battlefield.

To this day the ceremony has huge symbolism, with the colour seen as representing the soul and ethos of the regiment.

The Irish Guards were formed on April 1, 1900 by order of Queen Victoria to recognise the bravery shown by Irish men in the Boer War in particular, and service in the British Army in general.

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