Irish president Michael D Higgins begins historic UK visit

Queen has been taking a 'keen personal interest' in the details of first visit by an Irish head of state

LAST UPDATED AT 10:25 ON Tue 8 Apr 2014

IRELAND'S president Michael D Higgins will officially begin a four-day state visit today, the first ever by an Irish head of state.

Higgins, a 72-year-old poet and sociologist, will meet the Queen at Windsor Castle before laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and taking part in political meetings in Westminster.

He and his wife, Sabina, will be the guests of the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh at Windsor Castle, with the Queen taking "a very keen personal interest" in the details of the visit, says the BBC.

Other events planned for the trip include a Lord Mayor's banquet in the City of London's Guildhall on Wednesday and a "Northern Ireland-themed" reception at Windsor on Thursday.

Higgins will also attend a celebration of Irish culture and arts at the Royal Albert Hall and Stratford-on-Avon on Friday before returning to Dublin.

The Daily Telegraph says the visit marks the "final official act of reconciliation between the two countries in the aftermath of the peace process".

British and Irish sources stress that relations between the two countries are "extremely warm", says the BBC, especially after the Queen became the first British monarch to visit the Republic of Ireland in May 2011.

Northern Ireland's Deputy First Minister and former IRA chief, Martin McGuinness, will be present for a state banquet at Windsor today, the Sunday Times reported earlier this week.

Northern Ireland's First Minister Peter Robinson, Prime Minister David Cameron and the Taoiseach, Ireland's prime minister, Enda Kenny, will also be attending.

The Sinn Fein leadership declined invitations to various events when the Queen visited Ireland in 2011, but McGuinness met and shook hands with the Queen in 2012 when she visited Belfast's Lyric Theatre during her diamond jubilee celebrations. This was seen as a sign of the party's position shifting and another historic step along the road to reconciliation and peace in the province.

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