Higgins praises Liverpool links
President Michael D Higgins has praised Liverpool for its pioneering role in forging a strong overseas Irish community.
Branding the Merseyside hub as the most Irish of British cities, he said expatriate organisations there and around the globe played a very important role in society.
Speaking on the second day of an official three-day trip to north-west England, promoting business and cultural ties between Ireland and Britain, the president was greeted by cheering crowds.
Hundreds turned out as Mr Higgins, 71, accompanied by his wife, Sabina, met members of Liverpool's Irish community at the St Michael's Irish Centre in Everton.
The city has a significant Irish population dating back to the Famine era.
Addressing an audience of around 200, the president said: "Centres like St Michael's are a crucial part of a truly functioning and multi-cultural society. Vibrant and diverse Irish organisations, proud of their heritage but open to all, continue to play a hugely important role in towns, cities and villages all over the world.
"And here in Great Britain, Liverpool - the most Irish of British cities - has led the way."
Pat Lynch, centre chairman, said it was a "huge honour" for the president to visit. "It really is important to us," he said. "Our Irishness has never been lost and a visit like this reinforces that connection with our heritage and lets us know that we are cared for, which is important when you're away from home."
Earlier, the president and his wife, who arrived in the UK on Wednesday, attended a launch of the Irish Government's flagship tourism initiative, The Gathering.
"I think those who come in 2013 will find a very rich programme. It has been enhanced in practically every county in Ireland, there are over 1,000 events that have been announced already," he said. "What I have been saying to people is that if you have been thinking of coming soon, come next year because you'll find people very well prepared."