seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Establishment of the Special Criminal Court (SCC)

The Special Criminal Court (SCC), a juryless criminal court in Ireland which tries terrorism and serious organised crime cases, is established on May 26, 1972.

Article 38 of the Constitution of Ireland empowers Dáil Éireann to establish “special courts” with wide-ranging powers when the “ordinary courts are inadequate to secure the effective administration of justice.” The Offences against the State Act 1939 leads to the establishment of the Special Criminal Court for the trial of certain offences. The scope of a “scheduled offence” is set out in the Offences Against the State (Scheduled Offences) Order 1972.

On May 26, 1972, the Government of Ireland exercises its power to make a proclamation pursuant to Section 35(2) of the Offences against the State Act 1939 which leads to the establishment of the Special Criminal Court for the trial of certain offences. The current court is first established by the Dáil under the Offences against the State Act 1939 to prevent the Irish Republican Army (IRA) from subverting Ireland’s neutrality during World War II and the Emergency. The current incarnation of the Special Criminal Court dates from 1972, just after the Troubles in Northern Ireland began.

Although the court is initially set up to handle terrorism-related crime, its remit has been extended and it has been handling more organised crime cases after the Provisional Irish Republican Army ceasefire in the 1990s. For instance, members of the drugs gang which murdered journalist Veronica Guerin were tried in the Special Criminal Court.

Section 35(4) and (5) of the Offences against the State Act 1939 provide that if at any time the Government or the Parliament is satisfied that the ordinary courts are again adequate to secure the effective administration of justice and the preservation of public peace and order, a rescinding proclamation or resolution, respectively, shall be made terminating the Special Criminal Court regime. To date, no such rescinding proclamation or resolution has been promulgated. Following the introduction of a regular Government review and assessment procedure on January 14, 1997, reviews taking into account the views of the relevant State agencies are carried out on February 11, 1997, March 24, 1998, and April 14, 1999, and conclude that the continuance of the Court is necessary, not only in view of the continuing threat to State security posed by instances of violence, but also of the particular threat to the administration of justice, including jury intimidation, from the rise of organised and ruthless criminal gangs, principally involved in drug-related and violent crime.

The Special Criminal Court has been criticised by the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, Amnesty International and the United Nations Commission on Human Rights for its procedures and for being a special court, which ordinarily should not be used against civilians. Among the criticisms are the lack of a jury and the increasing use of the court to try organised “ordinary” crimes rather than the terrorist cases it was originally set up to handle. Critics also argue that the court is now obsolete since there is no longer a serious terrorist threat to the State, although others disagree and cite the continuing violence from dissident republican terrorism, international terrorism and serious gangland crime.

Under the law, the court is authorised to accept the opinion of a Garda Síochána chief-superintendent as evidence that a suspect is a member of an illegal organisation. However, the court has been reluctant to convict on the word of a garda alone, without any corroborating evidence.

The Sinn Féin political party in the past has stated that it is their intention to abolish the Special Criminal Court as they believed it was used to convict political prisoners in a juryless court, however Sinn Féin are no longer in favour of its abolition. Some prominent Sinn Féin members, including Martin Ferris and Martin McGuinness, have been convicted of offences by it. In 1973 McGuinness was tried at the SCC, which he refused to recognise, after being arrested near a car containing 250 pounds (110 kg) of explosives and nearly 5,000 rounds of ammunition. He was convicted and sentenced to six months imprisonment.

(Pictured: The Criminal Courts of Justice complex in Dublin where Special Criminal Court (SCC) sittings are usually held)


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Bertie Ahern Requires Second UN Resolution Prior to Iraq War

On February 19, 2003, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern says a second United Nations (UN) resolution is a political imperative before any military action against Iraq can take place. But Ahern refuses to state whether the Government of Ireland will halt the use of Shannon Airport by the United States military if the George W. Bush administration undertakes unilateral action against Saddam Hussein without UN backing.

The United States and the UK are forced to push back their plans for a second UN resolution on military action as more countries come out against the use of force in Iraq. Mary Robinson, the former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, says she is fearful of the consequences of a war without UN backing.

In an interview with RTÉ News Ahern says the most important issue for this country is the primacy of the United Nations. He disagrees with the United States on whether or not they legally needed another UN Resolution before launching an attack on Iraq. He says other countries, including Ireland, have another point of view.

The Fianna Fáil parliamentary party unanimously passes a motion calling for a second resolution from the United Nations Security Council prior to the consideration of military action against Iraq. The motion also expresses “full confidence” in the efforts of the Taoiseach and the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Brian Cowen, to reach a peaceful outcome to the crisis.

The leading United States Congressman, Jim Walsh, welcomes the support that the Taoiseach has given to the United States in relation to Iraq. After a meeting with Sinn Féin in Belfast earlier in the day, he says that he recognises that it is a difficult time for the Irish people.

In the meantime, the UK has told its nationals in Iraq to leave the country immediately. In a statement the British Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) says it has issued the alert because of increasing tension in the region and the risk of terrorist action. The office says anyone considering going to Iraq should remember that UK nationals were held hostage by the Baghdad government in the run-up to the 1991 Gulf War.

The British embassy in Kuwait City advises its citizens to leave Kuwait unless their presence in the emirate is essential. It also orders dependants of embassy staff to leave. “We advise you not to make any non-essential travel including holiday travel to Kuwait and, if already in Kuwait, to leave unless you consider your presence there is essential,” the embassy says in an advisory note.

An estimated 4,000 British nationals are resident in Kuwait. Britain has no diplomatic relations with President Saddam Hussein’s regime, and therefore cannot give consular assistance to British nationals inside Iraq. The current travel advisory for Israel warns against “any non-essential travel including holiday travel.”

(From: “More countries call for second UN Resolution” by RTÉ News, originally published Wednesday, February 19, 2003)


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The Republic of Ireland Act 1948 Signed Into Law

The Republic of Ireland Act 1948 is an Act of the Oireachtas which declares that Ireland may be officially described as the Republic of Ireland, and vests in the President of Ireland the power to exercise the executive authority of the state in its external relations, on the advice of the Government of Ireland. The Act is signed into law on December 21, 1948 and comes into force on April 18, 1949, Easter Monday, the 33rd anniversary of the beginning of the Easter Rising.

The Act repeals the External Relations Act 1936. Under that Act, King George VI acts as the Irish head of state in international relations by accredited ambassadors and on the State’s behalf accepts credentials appointing foreign ambassadors to the State. The Republic of Ireland Act removes this last remaining practical role from the King and vests it instead in the President of Ireland, making the then President of Ireland, Seán T. O’Kelly, unambiguously the Irish head of state.

In 1945, when asked if he plans to declare a Republic, the then Taoiseach Éamon de Valera replies, “we are a republic.” He also insists that Ireland has no king, but simply uses an external king as an organ in international affairs. However, that is not the view of constitutional lawyers including de Valera’s Attorneys General, whose disagreement with de Valera’s interpretation only come to light when the state papers from the 1930s and 1940s are released to historians. Nor is it the view in the international arena, who believe that Ireland does have a king, George VI, who had been proclaimed King of Ireland in December 1936, and to whom they accredit ambassadors to Ireland. King George, in turn, as “King of Ireland” accredits all Irish diplomats. All treaties signed by the Irish Taoiseach or Minister for External Affairs are signed in the name of King George.

In October 1947, de Valera asks his Attorney General, Cearbhall Ó Dálaigh, to draft a bill to repeal the External Relations Act. By 1948 a draft of the bill includes a reference to the state as being a republic. In the end, the draft bill is never submitted to the Oireachtas for approval.

The bill to declare Ireland a republic is introduced in 1948 by the new Taoiseach, John A. Costello of the Fine Gael party. Costello makes the announcement that the bill is to be introduced when he is in Ottawa, during an official visit to Canada. David McCullagh suggests that it is a spur of the moment reaction to offence caused by the Governor General of Canada, Lord Alexander, who is of Northern Irish descent, who allegedly places loyalist symbols before an affronted Costello at a state dinner. What is certain is that an agreement that there be separate toasts for the King and for the President of Ireland is broken. The Irish position is that a toast to the King, instead of representing both countries, would not include Ireland. Only a toast to the King is proposed, to the fury of the Irish delegation. Shortly afterwards Costello announces the plan to declare the republic.

However, according to all but one of the ministers in Costello’s cabinet, the decision to declare a republic had already been made before Costello’s Canadian visit. Costello’s revelation of the decision is because the Sunday Independent had discovered the fact and was about to “break” the story as an exclusive. The evidence of what really happens remains ambiguous. There is no record of a prior decision to declare a republic before Costello’s Canadian trip.

At any rate, the Act is enacted with all parties voting for it. De Valera does suggest that it would have been better to reserve the declaration of the republic until Irish unity had been achieved, a comment hard to reconcile with his 1945 claim that the Irish state was already a republic. Speaking in Seanad Éireann Costello tells senators that as a matter of law, the King is indeed “King of Ireland” and Irish head of state and the President of Ireland is in effect no more than first citizen and a local notable, until the new law comes into force.

The United Kingdom responds to the Republic of Ireland Act by enacting the Ireland Act 1949. This Act formally asserts that the Irish state had, when the Republic of Ireland Act came into force, ceased “to be part of His Majesty’s dominions” and accordingly is no longer within the Commonwealth. Nonetheless the United Kingdom statute provides that Irish citizens will not be treated as aliens under British nationality law. This, in effect, grants them a status similar to the citizens of Commonwealth countries.


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Second Inauguration of Mary McAleese

Mary McAleese is inaugurated as President of Ireland for a second term on November 11, 2004, becoming the fourth president up to that point to secure a second term, joining Sean T. O’Kelly, Éamon de Valera and Patrick Hillery. As of this writing in 2020, Michael D. Higgins is currently serving his second term as president.

McAleese’s initial seven-year term of office ends in November 2004, but she stands for a second term in the 2004 Irish presidential election. Following the failure of any other candidate to secure the necessary support for nomination, the incumbent president stands unopposed, with no political party affiliation, and is declared elected on October 1, 2004.

McAleese is re-inaugurated at the commencement of her second seven-year term on November 11, 2004. Her very high approval ratings are widely seen as the reason for her re-election, with no opposition party willing to bear the cost, financial or political, of competing in an election that would prove difficult to win.

Following the inauguration ceremony earlier in the day in Dublin Castle, McAleese attends a reception there hosted by the Government to mark the beginning of her second term of office. The 700 invited guests include members of the Government, the Oireachtas, the judiciary and dignitaries from Christian churches and other faiths.

McAleese identifies the need for strong and resilient communities as the theme of her second term in office. Speaking after her inauguration in the afternoon, she says, “The cushion of consumerism is no substitute for the comfort of community.” Speaking on the Northern Ireland peace process, she urges the hesitant to “muster the courage to complete the journey to a bright new landscape of hope.”

McAleese’s first term is distinguished by her work following the Omagh bombing and the September 11 terror attacks in the United States, as well as her behind-the-scenes work to open a dialogue with loyalists after the Good Friday Agreement.

Prevented by the Constitution of Ireland from running for a third term, McAleese leaves office in 2011 as one of Ireland’s most popular and respected presidents.

(Pictured: the second inauguration of Mary McAleese, November 11, 2004, President of Ireland website, http://www.president.ie)


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Irish Government Announces New Zealand Embassy

The Irish Government confirms on October 24, 2017 that it plans to open an embassy in New Zealand. The announcement comes as President Michael D. Higgins meets GovernorGeneral Patsy Reddy on the first day of his State visit to New Zealand.

The new Embassy in New Zealand brings to six the number of new Embassies or Consulates announced by the Government in the recent weeks. The new Missions announced on Budget Day are an Embassy in Santiago, Chile; an Embassy in Bogotá, Colombia; an Embassy in Amman, Jordan; a Consulate General in Vancouver, Canada; and a Consulate General in Mumbai, India.

The President along with his wife Sabina Higgins meet with Governor-General Reddy and Sir David Gascoigne on the first day of their State visit to New Zealand.

According to a statement released by the President’s office, “the decision to establish an embassy reflects an exceptionally close partnership between Ireland and New Zealand in international affairs, including at the United Nations.” New Zealand also announces plans to open an embassy in Ireland.

Diplomatic relations between Ireland and New Zealand are established in 1965. Ireland’s Ambassador to Australia is also accredited to New Zealand. Niamh McMahon serves as Ireland’s Honorary Consul in Auckland, New Zealand.

The President visits Wellington, Christchurch, Auckland and Waitangi while in New Zealand, a country in which there are almost 14,000 Irish born people and one in six people claim Irish heritage.

President Higgins also meets with the prime minister-elect of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern, who becomes the third woman to lead a government in her country.

(Pictured: President Michael D. Higgins and Sabina Higgins receive a traditional Maori welcome from Governor-General of New Zealand Dame Patsy Reddy and Sir David Gascoigne, Government House, Wellington)


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The Funeral of Liam Cosgrave

The funeral of Liam Cosgrave, Taoiseach from 1973 to 1977, takes place in Dublin on October 7, 2017. In accordance with the wishes of the Cosgrave family, it is not a state funeral. The Requiem Mass takes place at the Church of the Annunciation in Rathfarnham with burial afterwards at Goldenbridge Cemetery in Inchicore, Dublin. Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, members of the Government, and former Taoisigh are in attendance at the ceremony in Rathfarnham. Cosgrave died on October 4, 2017 at the age of 97.

Born on April 13, 1920, Cosgrave has a 40-year political career and is part of the government which sees Ireland become a Republic in 1949. He also oversees Ireland joining the United Nations, addresses the United States Congress in 1976 and signs the Sunningdale Agreement in Northern Ireland which leads to a short-lived power-sharing executive in Belfast in 1972.

Following tributes from across the political spectrum in Ireland, the Cosgrave family, his three children, Mary, Liam and Ciaran, are offered a state funeral. At their request the funeral Mass and burial has some trappings of state but it is a private service. His wife Vera died in 2016.

Ten military policemen carry the coffin of Cosgrave as his funeral begins in Dublin. Current Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and his predecessors Enda Kenny and Bertie Ahern are among those who attend the funeral Mass at the Church of the Annunciation in Rathfarnham. Members of the judiciary, Army and police also pay their respects.

Cosgrave is buried in Goldenbridge Cemetery, Inchicore, beside his father W.T. Cosgrave, a key figure in the foundation of the Irish Free State and an officer in the 1916 Easter Rising.

Cosgrave is Taoiseach from 1973-1977, some of the most turbulent years of the Northern Ireland Troubles. He has been described as a consistent and courageous voice against terrorism. He is at the head of government on the worst day of atrocities in the Troubles – the Dublin and Monaghan bombings on May 17, 1974 when loyalists kill 33 people, including a pregnant woman at full term.


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The Assassination of Christopher Ewart-Biggs

christopher-ewart-biggs-assassinationChristopher Thomas Ewart Ewart-Biggs, British Ambassador to the Republic of Ireland, author and senior Foreign Office liaison officer with MI6, is killed in Sandyford, Dublin on July 21, 1976 by a Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) land mine.

Ewart-Biggs is born in the Thanet district of Kent, South East England to Captain Henry Ewart-Biggs of the Royal Engineers and his wife Mollie Brice. He is educated at Wellington College and University College, Oxford and serves in the Queen’s Own Royal West Kent Regiment of the British Army during World War II. At the Second Battle of El Alamein in 1942 he loses his right eye and as a result he wears a smoked-glass monocle over an artificial eye.

Ewart-Biggs joins the Foreign Service in 1949, serving in Lebanon, Qatar and Algiers, as well as Manila, Brussels and Paris.

Ewart-Biggs is 55 when he is killed by a land mine planted by the IRA on July 21, 1976. He had been taking precautions to avoid such an incident since coming to Dublin only two weeks earlier. Among the measures he employs is to vary his route many times a week however, at a vulnerable spot on the road connecting his residence to the main road, there is only a choice between left or right. He chooses right and approximately 150 yards from the residence he hits a land mine that is later judged to contain hundreds of pounds of explosives. Ewart-Biggs and fellow passenger and civil servant Judith Cooke (aged 26) are killed. Driver Brian O’Driscoll and third passenger Brian Cubbon (aged 57) are injured. Cubbon is the highest-ranking civil servant in Northern Ireland at the time.

The Irish government launches a manhunt involving 4,000 Gardaí and 2,000 soldiers. Taoiseach Liam Cosgrave declares that “this atrocity fills all decent Irish people with a sense of shame.” In London, Prime Minister James Callaghan condemns the assassins as a “common enemy whom we must destroy or be destroyed by.” Thirteen suspected members of the IRA are arrested during raids as the British and Irish governments attempt to apprehend the criminals, but no one is ever convicted of the killings. In 2006, released Foreign and Commonwealth Office files reveal that the Gardaí had matched a partial fingerprint at the scene to Martin Taylor, an IRA member suspected of gun running from the United States.

Ewart-Biggs’s widow, Jane Ewart-Biggs, becomes a Life Peer in the House of Lords, campaigns to improve Anglo-Irish relations and establishes the Christopher Ewart-Biggs Memorial Prize for literature.

(Pictured: The twisted remains of the car lie upended beside a huge crater after the explosion that killed Christopher Ewart-Biggs and civil servant Judith Cooke)


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Death of Eoin McKiernan, Scholar of Irish Studies

eoin-mckiernanEoin McKiernan, early scholar in the interdisciplinary field of Irish Studies in the United States and the founder of the Irish American Cultural Institute (IACI), dies in Saint Paul, Minnesota on July 18, 2004. He is credited with leading efforts to revive and preserve Irish culture and language in the United States.

Born John Thomas McKiernan in New York City on May 10, 1915, McKiernan adopts the old Irish form of his name, Eoin, early in his life. While in college, he wins a scholarship to study Irish language in the Connemara Gaeltacht in the west of Ireland. In 1938, he marries Jeannette O’Callaghan, whom he met while studying Irish at the Gaelic Society in New York City. They raise nine children.

McKiernan attends seminary at Cathedral College of the Immaculate Conception and St. Joseph’s College in New York, leaving before ordination. He earns degrees in English and Classical Languages (AB, St. Joseph College, NY, 1948), Education and Psychology (EdM, UNH, 1951), and American Literature and Psychology (PhD, Penn State, 1957). Later in life, he is awarded honorary doctorates from the National University of Ireland, Dublin (1969), the College of Saint Rose, Albany (1984), Marist College, Poughkeepsie (1987) and the University of St. Thomas, Saint Paul (1996).

Passion for Irish culture is the dominant undercurrent of a distinguished teaching career in secondary (Pittsfield, NH, 1947–49) and university levels (State University of New York at Geneseo, 1949–59, and University of St. Thomas in Saint Paul, MN, 1959–72). McKiernan serves as an officer of the National Council of College Teachers of English, is appointed by the Governor of New York to a State Advisory Committee to improve teacher certification standards and serves as a Consultant to the U.S. Department of Education in the early 1960s.

McKiernan suggests to the Irish government in 1938 that a cultural presence in the United States would promote a deeper understanding between the two countries, but he eventually realises that if this is to happen, he will have to lead the way. His opportunity comes in 1962, when he is asked to present a series on public television. Entitled “Ireland Rediscovered,” the series is so popular that another, longer series, “Irish Diary,” is commissioned. Both series air nationwide. The enthusiastic response provides the impetus to establish the Irish American Cultural Institute (IACI) in 1962. In 1972 he resigns from teaching to devote his energy entirely to the IACI.

Under McKiernan’s direction, the IACI publishes the scholarly journal Eire-Ireland, with subscribers in 25 countries, and the informational bi-monthly publication Ducas. The IACI still sponsors the Irish Way (an immersion program for U.S. teenagers), several speaker series, a reforestation program in Ireland (Trees for Ireland), theatre events in both countries and educational tours in Ireland. He continues these educational Ireland tours well into his retirement. At his suggestion, the Institute finances the world premiere of A. J. Potter‘s Symphony No. 2 in Springfield, Massachusetts.

Troubled by the biased reporting of events in Northern Ireland in the 1970s, McKiernan establishes an Irish News Service, giving Irish media and public figures direct access to American outlets. In the 1990s, he is invited by the Ditchley Foundation to be part of discussions aimed at bringing peace to that troubled area and is a participant in a three-day 1992 conference in London dealing with civil rights in Northern Ireland. Organized by Liberty, a London civil rights group, the conference is also attended by United Nations, European Economic Community, and Helsinki representatives.

McKiernan also founds Irish Books and Media, which is for forty years the largest distributor of Irish printed materials in the United States. In his eighth decade, he establishes Irish Educational Services, which funds children’s TV programs in Irish and provided monies for Irish language schools in Northern Ireland. Irish America magazine twice names him one of the Irish Americans of the year. In 1999, they choose him as one of the greatest Irish Americans of the 20th century.

McKiernan dies on July 18, 2004 in Saint Paul, Minnesota. On his death, The Irish Times refers to him as the “U.S. Champion of Irish culture and history . . . a patriarch of Irish Studies in the U.S. who laid the ground for the explosion of interest in Irish arts in recent years.”


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Sinn Féin, Cumann na mBan & Others Declared Illegal Organizations

sinn-fein-cartoonSinn Féin, the Irish Volunteers, Cumann na mBan and the Gaelic League are proclaimed as illegal organisations by the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, John French, 1st Earl of Ypres on July 4, 1919.

The proclamation states that the proscribed organisations are dangerous and a “grave menace” designed to “terrorise the peaceful and law-abiding subjects of His Majesty in Ireland.” It goes on to say that these associations “encourage and aid persons to commit crimes and promote and incite to acts of violence and intimidation and interfere with the administration of the law and disturb the maintenance of law and order.”

The Irish Times, no supporter of any of the banned organisations, welcomes the development as a sign that the government has decided that sedition will “no longer be preached and practised with impunity in Ireland.” The paper also says that this new policy “furnishes final proof of the gravity of the Irish problem.”

In the immediate aftermath of the proclamation, business continues as usual at the Sinn Féin headquarters at 6 Harcourt Street and at the Gaelic League’s head offices at 25 Parnell Square. Both organisations claim that they have not received any direct communication, let alone any visits, from the police or military.

Speaking to a representative of the Evening Telegraph, Eoin Mac Neill, President of the Gaelic League, strikes a defiant note, declaring that the organisation will “not allow itself to be driven underground” and will continue to “have the support of the nation and of Irishmen abroad.”

MacNeill points out that the Gaelic League is approaching its 25th anniversary, on July 23, and that throughout its lifetime it has always been “non-political – that is to say has never interfered in the controversy with regard to the form of the Irish Government, and left all its members absolutely free to hold whatever political opinions they pleased. Of course it a new situation now. The Government itself has taken the initiative in making the neutrality of the Gaelic League impossible.”

Apparently the banning of the Gaelic League spurs interest in the language movement as several booksellers refer to being “inundated with orders” for booklets and manuals of instruction and conversations in the Irish language. The casual use of Irish on the streets also reportedly increases.

Cumann na mBan expresses surprise at the actions of the government and takes it as a sign that “conscription is now a certainty.” All of the organisation’s public work up to this point has been geared towards the campaign to oppose conscription.

The Lord Lieutenant makes his proclamation under the Criminal Law and Procedure (Ireland) Act of 1887 which gives the authorities the power to outlaw any organisation it believes to be involved in criminal activities.

(From: “BANNED: Sinn Féin, Irish Volunteers, Cumann na mBan and the Gaelic League,” RTÉ.ie, the website of Raidió Teilifís Éireann | Photo: The government trying to douse the flames of Sinn Féin, from “The Republic,” April 11, 1907, DigitalLibrary@Villanova University)


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President Mary Robinson Meets Queen Elizabeth II

robinson-elizabeth-visit-1993Mary Robinson, the first female president of Ireland, becomes the first Irish head of state to meet with a British monarch when she visits Queen Elizabeth II on May 27, 1993.

For much of the 20th century, relations between Ireland and its nearest neighbour are cool. Temperatures drop significantly over the economic war in the 1930s and Ireland’s neutrality in World War II. The sense of unfinished business permeates diplomacy during the Troubles, but by 1990 there is significant warmth in trade, tourism, business and even politics.

The newly elected Robinson makes a big play of reaching out to Irish emigrants and sees the opportunity to help Anglo-Irish relations. And so, on her 49th birthday, she pops in for tea with the British head of state.

None of Robinson’s predecessors had set foot in Britain, other than to change planes. Even when President Patrick Hillery is invited to the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer in 1981, he is advised by the Government of Ireland to decline the invitation.

But Robinson decides she will not be pushed around, and successfully insists she be allowed to join other heads of state at the opening of a European bank in London. Next she asks the government if she might be able to travel to the University of Cambridge to deliver a speech and receive an honorary degree. It is only after he reluctantly agrees that Taoiseach Charlie Haughey realises that the Chancellor of the University is the Queen’s husband, Prince Philip.

Robinson meets the royal, the world remains on its axis, and a precedent is set. “Partly because I’ve never been fazed by royalty of any kind, least of all the British royal family, I felt entirely relaxed,” she recalls in her authorised biography.

Robinson next meets the prince at a memorial service for the victims of an Irish Republican Army (IRA) bombing in Warrington, where she is applauded as she leaves the church. Soon, she is meeting royals all over the place, at rugby matches and memorial ceremonies, and in a television interview says that she would like to meet the Queen.

By February 1993, Haughey has been replaced by Albert Reynolds and he grants permission for Robinson to travel for a strictly personal visit. The visit does not happen in a vacuum – Reynolds is in secret discussions with Republicans that would end in the IRA ceasefire – and the Taoiseach is keen not to give any suggestion that this is a State visit, which would require a reciprocal visit.

Robinson’s party arrives at Buckingham Palace at 4:55 PM on May 27 where they are greeted by the Queen’s private secretary, Sir Robert Fellowes. Robinson’s staff pushes the Palace to allow press photographers, reckoning that a historic moment should be captured.

Robinson, in an Ib Jorgensen fuchsia suit, later donated to Madame Tussauds waxworks, and her husband Nick are brought up to the first floor to meet the Queen for a friendly and informal tea party that lasts 30 minutes. They sip a blend of Chinese and India tea in Minton cups, exchange signed photographs of themselves, and discuss the prospects for peace. The President also hands over an extra present of a hand-turned wooden cup from Spiddal.

Afterwards, the ground-breaking photographs are taken and published all over the world, including the front page of the Irish Independent. “Palace Talks Prepare Way for State Visit” runs the lead headline over a piece by Bernard Purcell and Gene McKenna. They go on, reporting the President as saying the visit is “symbolic of the maturing relationship between Ireland and Britain.”

In 1996 President Robinson’s 15th visit to Britain is upgraded to an Official Visit, and she leaves office the following year.

Robinson’s successor, Mary McAleese, takes things further, and meets Queen Elizabeth II several times in London and at World War I commemorations on the continent. In May 2011 McAleese welcomes Queen Elizabeth II on her four-day State Visit to Ireland and in April 2014 President Michael D. Higgins makes the first State Visit to the UK.

(Pictured: President Mary Robinson with the Queen outside Buckingham Palace in 1993. Photo: Eamonn Farrell/Photocall Ireland | “Flashback 1993: The first Irish head of state meeting with a British monarch” by Ger Siggins, Independent.ie, May 22, 2016)