From the arrival of the Cambridge family yesterday in New Zealand to the Queen welcoming the Irish Prime Minister today, this week is all about island diplomacy for the British royals.
William and Kate’s touchdown in New Zealand yesterday with eight-month-old baby George launched what will surely be a visit overflowing attention from the world’s press. While it was only Prince George’s second official appearance, he handled the attention like a seasoned pro. With a head full of blond hair similar to his father’s, chubby cheeks and a few healthy teeth, George seemed to take the press photographer’s interest in stride.
After an official welcome at the airport, William and Kate traveled to the official residence of the governor general, where they were treated to a traditional Maori welcome.
This welcome will be the first of many on their three-week journey of New Zealand and Australia, where they will visit Sydney, the Blue Mountains, Queensland, Adelaide and Canberra. While in New Zealand, the royal couple will visit a Maori tribe, a rugby stadium, a vineyard and take part in a yacht race.
Meanwhile, back in London, the Queen was marking a truly historic day. Following her groundbreaking visit to the Republic of Ireland three years ago, the Queen welcomed Irish President Michael D Higgins to the United Kingdom. Speaking at a banquet held in his honor at Windsor Castle, President Higgins called the UK and Ireland as “neighbors and friends” who should “no longer allow our past to ensnare our future”. Mr. Higgins has had a full day of ceremonial visits to mark his visit. This morning he was met at the Irish embassy in London by Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall before heading to Windsor to meet up with the Queen and Prince Philip. The ceremonial welcome at Windsor was marked by a 21-gun salute, military bands and marching troops.
President Higgins then went to Westminster Abbey, where he laid a wreath at the Grave of the Unknown Warrior – a tomb of a British soldier of World War One – which is a customary part of all state visits. While in the Abbey, President Higgins and his wife Sabina stopped to look at a memorial to the Queen’s cousin, Earl Mountbatten, who was killed by an IRA bomb in 1979. It is these types of small, seemingly insignificant acknowledgements that are groundbreaking to both the British and Irish peoples.
Remarking on the warming relationship between the two countries in a speech to both Houses of Parliament, President Higgins said, “I stand here at a time when the relationship between our two islands has, as I have said, achieved a closeness and warmth that once seemed unachievable.” After recognizing the “pain and sacrifice” both countries had suffered in the years since Irish independence in 1922, Higgins continued, “We acknowledge that past but, even more, we wholeheartedly welcome the considerable achievement of today’s reality – the mutual respect, friendship and co-operation which exists between our two countries.” During his visit, which ends Friday, President Higgins is also scheduled to meet Prime Minister David Cameron at Downing Street, pay tribute to the work of Irish health professionals, and meet with business leaders and London Mayor Boris Johnson.
In her toast to the health of the Irish nation at tonight’s state banquet, the Queen said she had loved her Irish visit and found it “even more pleasing since then that we, Irish and British, are becoming good and dependable neighbors and better friends, finally shedding our inhibitions about seeing the best in each other.” These visits, whether at home in London or down under in New Zealand, show that the British royals remain powerful diplomatic allies in creating new bonds and friendships among the people of the world and the United Kingdom.