Meeting the Queen
She didn't come here, but people from Co. Wexford very much made their contribution to Queen Elizabeth II's visit to Ireland
IT WAS a case of the Queen and I as Wexford minister Brendan Howlin enjoyed the honour of escorting Elizabeth II and her husband the Duke of Edinburgh on a tour of the Rock of Cashel last Friday.
The Labour TD and Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform was nominated by the Government to greet the Queen in Tipperary and lead the royal entourage around one of the country's most famous national monuments.
The privilege fell to him as his department is in charge of the Office of Public Works which has responsibility for the Rock of Cashel and oversaw a major restoration of the historic site several years ago.
Queen Elizabeth specifically asked to be taken to Cashel as she developed an interest in the monument when Windsor Castle burned down in 1992 and UK contractors involved in the refurbishment sought advice from the OPW on special drying techniques used in the Rock of Cashel restoration.
Minister Howlin had the task of receiving the Queen on her arrival in Cashel last Friday morning and showing the royal party around the monument as senior OPW personnel outlined the various historic aspects. He then bid her a formal farewell before her cavalcade left the Co. Tipperary town.
The Wexfordman said he was 'immensely proud and honoured' to have been entrusted with such a key role in the Queen's visit, which he described as 'a fantastic, historic occasion'.
'I was delighted,' said Minister Howlin, who was first introduced to Queen Eliizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh when she met some members of the Cabinet during a visit to Government Buildings on Thursday morning last.
'I had a brief discussion with her and the Duke. She asked me about my role as Minister for Public Expenditure and remarked that it was a difficult job in the current economic climate but that it was happening everywhere, including the UK.'
Deputy Howlin also attended the state dinner hosted by President Mary McAleese in Dublin Castle, where he met the British prime minister David Cameron and foreign secretary William Hague.
He felt that the state function was a very normal and comfortable occasion with nearest neighbours and trading partners sitting down together, yet it was remarkable in that it could not have happened during the past 100 years.
'When you consider all the hurt that has lain in the history between the two countries, it was a landmark, historic moment that you could have representatives of the different traditions from Northern Ireland sitting down together at an event like this.'
'It really was a healing and unifying event that was very important.'
On a lighter note, Minister Howlin said he was delighted to see Wexford produce represented on the menu in the form of 'rib of Slaney Valley beef ' as the main course.
'Our greatest assets are our people and our culture and the Queen's visit, as well as the visit of President Obama, have provided us with the perfect opportunity to show the world that Ireland is still open for business.' Minister Howlin said that Tourism Ireland has estimated that the publicity generated by the two visits will be worth some €150m to the economy.