TULLY, Ireland (Reuters) - Britain’s Queen Elizabeth spent an afternoon in the heartland of Irish horse-racing on Thursday shifting down a gear from the symbolism and ceremony that marked the earlier part of her state visit.
Since her arrival on Tuesday, the queen has made powerful gestures of reconciliation for Britain’s bloody past in Ireland culminating in a landmark speech on Wednesday night in which she expressed regret for centuries of conflict.
Her visit to Ireland’s National Stud, the birthplace of some of the world’s finest thoroughbreds, allowed the queen and her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh, to indulge their love of horses and strike a lighter tone on the third day of her four-day visit.
“She’s always been a horse-woman. It’ll be a relief after some gruelling days,” said Sue Lilley, coordinator with the Irish School of Farriery.
Ireland is the third largest breeder of thoroughbreds in the world and many people have speculated that the trip to Kildare, renowned as Ireland’s “Horsey County”, would be a personal highlight for the queen, a life-long racing enthusiast.
Dressed in a blue coat and matching hat, the queen inspected stallions at the stud, where some of her own horses have been housed.
She will take a detour from her official itinerary on Thursday to visit the Aga Khan’s stud in Kildare and meet Sea The Stars, one of the most famous racehorses of all time.
The 85-year old monarch’s decision to address some of the most controversial aspects of Britain’s relationship with its former colony and her description of the two countries as “firm friends and equal partners” drew praise across the country.
The monarch’s use of the Irish language, once banned under British rule, to begin an address to the audience in Dublin Castle was particularly appreciated.
“I was impressed by the Irish. That she took the time to learn a few words. It’s a cliché, but she is trying to build bridges,” said postman Joe Cooper as he delivered mail near Dublin Castle.
“That she made the effort, aged 85, to travel over here, fair play. I’m 62 and I hate travelling.”
Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton, who attended Wednesday’s banquet in Dublin Castle, said the queen’s speech captivated the audience.
“It was very historic when she started with A hUachtarain agus a chairde (President and friend). I think the hairs on the backs of people’s necks stood up.”
The queen also issued a statement commiserating with Irish people on the death of former prime minister Garret FitzGerald, whose work on peace in Northern Ireland, paved the way for her visit, the first by a British monarch in a century.
“I was saddened to hear this morning news of the death of Garret FitzGerald, a true statesman, he made a lasting contribution to peace and will be greatly missed.”
The Irish tricolour flew at half-mast at the National Stud to mark FitzGerald’s passing.
Writing by Carmel Crimmins