President Michael D Higgins to be honoured by The Queen at Windsor Castle
Irish President Michael D Higgins' historic state visit to the UK will take relations between the two nations to a new level, the Foreign Office said today.
The Queen has taken a keen interest in the preparations for the four-day trip - the first by an Irish head of state.
President Higgins will be joined by his wife, Sabina, and, in an indication of the importance of the visit which begins on April 8, by Irish Taoiseach Enda Kenny.
A Foreign Office spokesman said: "This is quite a special state visit. It follows on from the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh, who went in May 2011 to Ireland. It was one of those visits that properly deserves to be called an historic visit.
"This is the first visit by an Irish President to the UK - a first state visit, another real historic milestone and quite a special state visit in every way."
The Queen's highly successful state visit to Ireland two years ago paved the way for President's Higgins' trip.
She received a warm reception from the Irish people and visited significant locations like Dublin's Croke Park - the site of the 1920 Bloody Sunday massacre where British forces fired into the crowd at a football match, killing 14 spectators and players.
Highlights of the visit will include an address the President, a politician, poet and human rights activist, will make to both Houses of Parliament - another first for an Irish head of state.
The Queen will stage a traditional state banquet in honour of her guest at Windsor Castle, Mr Higgins and his wife will visit the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford-upon-Avon and he will attend another major dinner at the Guildhall in the City given by the Lord Mayor.
Northern Ireland will be recognised with the Queen hosting a reception for leading figures from Ulster's cultural, political and business life.
A Buckingham Palace spokesman said they recognised the special nature of the state visit: "What we have is a genuine desire on behalf of the Queen to repay the kindness that was shown to her in Ireland."
He added that the Queen had taken a strong interest in the planning for the trip "she is, and wants to be across the detail".