Higgins hails 'memorable' UK visit

President Michael D Higgins has hailed his “memorable” historic state visit to the UK as “so positive, so uplifting and so hopeful”.

He took to the Royal Albert Hall stage at a concert in his honour to uproarious applause and said: “On a night like this it is great to be Irish.” He added it was “even better” to share it with “our friends in Britain”.

On the final night of his historic state visit, the London venue was the setting for an evening of music, song, dance and literature featuring artists from the two nations.

President Higgins was joined in the Royal Box by his wife Sabina and Prince and Princess Michael of Kent.

The North’s Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness was seated next to the Royal Box, accompanied by First Minister Peter Robinson, Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers and former prime minister John Major.

President Higgins took to the stage shortly before the final notes of the concert Ceiliúradh rang out.

“In this magnificent venue and on this...historical occasion, I want to extend my thanks to a number of people who have made this evening’s celebration, and indeed the past few days, extraordinary and memorable days, so positive, so uplifting and so hopeful,” he said.

(Steve Nieve, Donal Lunny,Paul Brady, Elvis Costello, Conor J O Brien, Glen Hansard, Imelda May Andy Irvine, Lisa Hannigan, and John Sheehan)

The president expressed his and his wife’s “deep appreciation” to their hosts, the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh, thanking them for their “gracious and generous welcome and the warm hospitality”.

President Higgins joked that he hoped Prince and Princess Michael were “sufficiently entertained” and would “transmit positive review” to the Queen about the concert.

President Higgins described the cultures of the two nations as ``deeply interwoven''.

Performing on the night, hosted by Dermot O’Leary, were stars including Glen Hansard, Imelda May, Paul Brady, and special guest Elvis Costello.

President Higgins thanked the Irish living across the water for “the contribution you’ve made to the development of Britain, and for your part in the consolidation of an enduring friendship between our two countries”.

He added: “A friendship that will grow and deepen and become richer as a result...of this memorable week.

“I want to tell you that you remain and will always be, all of you, a cherished member of the Irish family.”

He thanked everyone for travelling to be at the historic concert, and said: “On a night like this it is great to be Irish.

“And it is even better to share with our neighbours... our friends in Britain.”

(Imelda May)

All pictures: Chris Bellew/Fennells

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