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President Higgins hails 'memorable' state visit

PRESIDENT Michael d Higgins has hailed his "memorable" historic state visit to the UK as "so positive, so uplifting and so hopeful".

He took to the royal Albert Hall stage at a concert in his honour to uproarious applause and said: "On a night like this it is great to be irish."

He said it was "even better" to share it with "our friends in Britain".

On the final night of his historic state visit, the London venue was the setting for an evening of music, song, dance and literature featuring artists from the two nations.

President Higgins was joined in the royal Box by his wife Sabina and Prince and Princess Michael of Kent. Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness was seated next to the royal Box, accompanied by First Minister Peter Robinson, Secretary of State Theresa Villiers and former British prime minister John Major.

A song about the plight of irish people in London during the troubles was one of the highlights of the special concert. Strabane musician Paul Brady captured the packed audience's imagination with his performance of Nothing but the Same Old Story.

He was among dozens of irish stars who took part in Ceiliúradh, an evening of music, spoken word and dance, last night.

Lisa Hannigan, John Sheahan and Glen Hansard's performance of Falling Slowly, Hansard's Oscar-winning song from the film Once, was given a warm reception.

Guests including Brady, Elvis Costello, Imelda May, Andy irvine and Donal Lunny later joined Hansard on stage for a rousing rendition of Brendan Behan's The Auld Triangle.

the audience sang along to the song, which was included to mark the 50th anniversary of Behan's death.

Actress Fiona Shaw, broadcasters dermot O'Leary and Olivia O'Leary, and author Joseph O'Connor also took part in the event. Dozens of politicians and public figures from both sides of the border attended the event. Orange Order grandmaster Edward Stevenson was there, along with DUP politicians including finance minister Simon Hamilton; enterprise minister Arlene Foster; health minister Edwin Poots and Lagan Valley MP Jeffrey Donaldson.

Alliance MP Naomi Long, Sinn Fein MP Francie Molloy and Trevor Ringland from the NI Conservative Party were in the audience, as well as UUP leader Mike Nesbitt and SDLP leader Alasdair Mcdonnell. They were joined by GAA director general Padraig duffy; president-elect Aoghan Farrell and Ulster president Martin McAvinney and Ulster secretary Danny Murphy.

Around half of the 5,000 tickets for the event, priced at £10, sold out in four hours when they went on sale.

Other attendees included invited guests, including political, business, cultural and irish community leaders.

Proceeds from the ticket sales are being donated to the irish Youth Foundation, to be used in support of irish cultural projects in Britain.

Outside, a small protest was held by what demonstrators called the ongoing problem of Ireland Making England the Legal destination for Abortion (imelda). The women are members of 'Speaking of IMELDA' a direct action feminist performance group.

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