Northern Ireland news

Queen unveils portrait by Belfast's Colin Davidson at Co-operation Ireland event

From left, Queen Elizabeth, Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, and Tanaiste Frances Fitzgerald at a Co-operation Ireland reception at Crosby Hall in London. The queen unveiled a portrait of herself by artist Colin Davidson. Picture by Jeff Spicer, Press Association
Tony Jones

BRITAIN'S Queen Elizabeth has been praised for helping to set Anglo-Irish relations on a firmer footing as she unveiled a portrait of herself commissioned to mark the work of a charity promoting reconciliation in Northern Ireland.

In the stunning setting of historic Crosby Hall, the home of Henry VIII's former chancellor Sir Thomas More, the queen pulled a velvet cloth from the image painted by internationally acclaimed artist Colin Davidson.

The large canvas, roughly measuring 4ft by 5ft, depicted the queen wearing a turquoise Karl Ludwig day dress and in reflective mood, with a hint of a smile on her face.

The Belfast-born artist, who has painted leading figures such as actors Liam Neeson and Brad Pitt, German chancellor Angela Merkel and Nobel Laureate poet Seamus Heaney, said after the unveiling: "I jested with her she was still talking to me which was good, and she absolutely agreed she still was talking to me – so I took quite a bit of heart from that."

Davidson, who had one 90-minute sitting with the monarch in May, said: "She commented on the scale and most sitters comment on the scale, she had no idea I was going to make her so big. I told her that's the size I usually paint and I couldn't possibly paint her any smaller.

"I feel relief and a great deal of privilege I have to say as well. I realise the gravity of the event, I realise the symbolism of the event as well from an Anglo-Irish point of view, more than anything else. And what I hope is my painting in some way acknowledges the actions she has taken to advance healing in the Anglo-Irish relationship."

The guest list for the event on Tuesday in Chelsea, London was a who's who of politicians both north and south of the border with First Minister Arlene Foster attending, Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, Secretary of State James Brokenshire, and Tánaiste and justice and equality minister, Frances Fitzgerald.

The queen, who was joined by the Duke of Edinburgh, is joint patron of Co-operation Ireland – together with President Michael D Higgins – which commissioned Mr Davidson to paint the monarch.

Since 1979 the charity has been encouraging interaction, dialogue and practical collaboration, both within Northern Ireland and between Britain and the Republic.

It has a vision of a peaceful and stable island where people of all backgrounds live and work together for a better future.

Colin Davidson, and the portrait of Queen Elizabeth, which he has painted on behalf of Co-operation Ireland in recognition of the monarch's work in promoting reconciliation in Northern Ireland. Picture by Colin Davidson/Press Association 

The queen made a historic state visit to Ireland in 2011 when her presence of Irish soil – the first by a British monarch since Ireland gained partition – heralded a new chapter in Anglo-Irish relations.

The head of state's conciliatory words and gestures during the tour won over many critics of the monarchy, and the Irish people appeared to visibly warm to their royal guest.

Then the following year another watershed moment came when the queen and Sinn Féin's Martin McGuinness shook hands at a cultural event in Belfast's Lyric Theatre, where Mr Davidson's paintings were on display.

Mr McGuinness highlighted the queen's groundbreaking state visit to Ireland and said: "I think she's made a tremendous contribution to support the whole process of peace and reconciliation."

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