The Queen of England is inviting prominent members of the Irish community in Britain to a reception at Buckingham Palace this evening.
Music manager Louis Walsh and fashion designer Orla Kiely will be among the 350 guests from all walks of life. The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh will also be joined by the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester and the Duke of Kent.
Walsh said: “It is such a surprise. I never ever thought about going to Buckingham Palace. It is a great honour for me and I am looking forward to it.”
Pat O’Connell is another guest to the reception. O’Connell is a Cork fishmonger who famously met the Queen in 2011 during her visit to Ireland. A photograph of the two of them laughing together became symbolic of her good humoured visit.
Tonight’s reception is to acknowledge Irish people who have made a positive contribution to British culture. It precedes a state visit to the UK from President of Ireland Michael D. Higgins.
Mr Higgins will become the first Irish head of state to make an official visit to Britain when he makes the short trip from 8-11 April. He will be invited to visit the Queen at Windsor Castle during his stay in the UK.
This is the second time the Queen has reached out to the Irish community in the last few years. Her official visit to Ireland in 2011 was rich in symbolic value, representing a major coming together of the two nations.
The visit took place under huge security by the Irish authorities but passed without serious incident. The Queen was given a warm reception and drew gasps of approval from the Irish president at the time, Mary McAleese…when she spoke in Irish at one point, and went on to acknowledge that Ireland had suffered injustices at the hands of the British government in the past.