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Historic U.K. State Visit Underway By Irish President

Michael D. Higgins began a three-day state visit to the U.K. Tuesday, the first such visit since Ireland gained independence nearly a century ago.
Posted at 8:24 PM, Apr 08, 2014

There was plenty of pomp and ceremony in the United Kingdom Tuesday as the country hosted a historic state visit: the first by a sitting Irish head of state since Ireland fought for its independence nearly a century ago.

Irish president Michael D. Higgins began the three-day trip with meetings with the royal family, a visit to Windsor Castle and an address to Parliament. (Via The Telegraph)

"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." (Via Channel 4)

Higgins' visit is the latest step in securing the Anglo-Irish relationship, a relationship David Cameron said earlier this month is "at an all-time high." (Via Belfast Telegraph)

Higgins has visited the U.K. many times, but this is the first time he's gotten the full state visit treatment.

Part of the reason is just that these formal visits in the U.K. are relatively rare. The Queen's website lists just over 100 state visits since she took the throne in 1952, meaning they average about two a year. (Via The British Monarchy)

And it's more than just a handshake. An official state visit usually involves a welcome ceremony and a banquet. Believe it or not, only the last two U.S. presidents, Barack Obama and George W. Bush, have been given full state visits. (Via The British Monarchy)

But, obviously, the main reason Higgins is the first Irish president to receive the honor is the troubled history between the two countries, though there have been big steps toward reconciliation lately.

Queen Elizabeth made a state visit of her own to Ireland in 2011. That was also the first visit in a century. (Via RTE)

And a year later, the symbolism got even stronger when the Queen shook hands with Martin McGuinness, a former IRA commander and now an Irish deputy minister. (Via CNN)

McGuinness actually attended the banquet at Windsor Castle Tuesday night. While some protestors outside called for his arrest for terrorist acts in the 70's, if anything says "burying the hatchet," it's a former IRA commander toasting the Queen. (Via BBC)

Higgins is scheduled to talk trade with U.K. officials during the rest of his visit. The economic ties between the two countries have exploded in recent years, with an estimated 200,000 jobs in each country relying on trade.