Queen pushes out the boat with pomp and pageantry
The Queen and President Michael D Higgins stood side-by-side as the sound of the Irish national anthem rose into the blue sky over Windsor Castle – the royal residence the Queen calls home.
It was the second airing of the Irish national anthem in as many minutes – it had first been played by scarlet-uniformed members of the Irish Guards band as a procession of royal carriages snaked around the castle quadrangle, accompanied by a cavalcade of mounted cavalry.
It was clear from the start of this historic State visit that the Queen was determined to push the royal boat out in terms of pomp and pageantry – and nobody does ceremonial occasions with more impressive bells-and-whistles than this particular family.
The President and his wife Sabina had been escorted to the town of Windsor earlier in the day by Prince Charles and Camilla, who had met them at the Irish embassy in London, and by noon they were emerging from their cars in the middle of Windsor to the boom of a 21-gun salute.
And waiting for them were the Queen and Prince Philip for the official welcome, before the procession of carriages clattered off through the main street. Both sides were lined with 6,000 people, many of whom were waving Irish and British pennants. The route was lined with flagpoles where Union flags and tricolours flapped in the breeze.
Once the national anthems had played in the castle quadrangle, the Queen and Sabina remained chatting on the viewing dais while the President and Philip inspected the Grenadier Guards, who act as the monarch's personal bodyguards.
The Irish Guards would have been the troops to be inspected on this visit, but most of them are deployed in Cyprus.
In among the lavish spectacle, smaller, thoughtful touches abounded. To greet her Irish guests, the Queen wore a sky-blue cashmere coat and paisley patterned moss green dress and dove grey dress by Stewart Pavin, and pinned on to her coat was her orchid brooch, made of 66 diamonds and hand-cut glass flowers by Waterford Crystal.
Irish and British milled about together in a relaxed fashion.
It was a normal scene of people at ease together. Given the tangled web of history which brought everyone to this place, how utterly strange it seemed, and how perfectly wonderful.