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Queen and Irish president celebrate peace-building

The Queen and Irish President Mary McAleese met in Northern Ireland but there was still no sign of the long-anticipated Royal visit to Dublin.

The two heads of state had 20 minutes of private talks at Hillsborough Castle in County Down last night before attending a celebration of the 30th anniversary of cross-border cooperation and peace-building by the Co-operation Ireland charity of which they are joint patrons.

After they last met, at Queen's University, Belfast in March last year, the President said a visit to the Irish republic by the Queen had moved significantly closer but would not happen until the completion of devolution in Northern Ireland.

The final piece of that jigsaw, returning responsibility for policing and justice to Stormont, is yet to be achieved but is moving ever closer.

The prospect of a Dublin visit by the Queen was alluded to by Co-operation Ireland chairman Christopher Moran at a reception in a rain-lashed marquee in the castle grounds.

He thanked the two heads of state for their patronage and for attending the anniversary celebrations.

He added: "Co-operation Ireland hope that when the time is right we will have the occasion to celebrate again in your presence in Dublin."

The Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh, the President and her husband, Dr Martin McAleese, were entertained by Northern Ireland's international singing sensations The Priests and the award-winning Grosvenor Grammar Chamber Choir of Belfast.

The County Antrim parish priests, brothers Eugene and Martin O'Hagan and life-long friend Father David Delargy, sang Danny Boy and An Irish Blessing - which they said was suitable for the occasion as it was written by an Englishman.

The Priests cut short a trip to Australia to fly back and perform, but said they had been thrilled to do so.

Father Eugene said: "Everybody is nervous about singing at the best of times in front of an audience, but to have both Her Majesty the Queen, the President Mrs McAleese, the Duke of Edinburgh, Dr McAleese and the Secretary of State in the audience was absolutely overwhelming."

He added: "We literally got off the plane at midday after 22 or 23 hours in the air. It's been a long old day but we would not have missed it for the world."

He said the boys and girls from the Grosvenor Choir had thought they were going to sing for the Irish rugby team, who met the Queen at a reception earlier in the evening.

"When they found out it was to be in the presence of the two heads of state you can imagine they were excited, they were thrilled.

"One said to me it will be something to tell her grandchildren, and she was only 14 or 15 so she was planning well ahead."

The Priests next appearance will be at the Brits in London next Thursday. "We're up for a Classical Brit but we will be singing whether we win or not," said Father Eugene.

The Queen also had a brief private talk at Hillsborough, prior to the reception, with Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson.

Belfast Telegraph

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