Tully: With the serious business of her visit to Ireland successfully concluded, Queen Elizabeth II turned her attention on Thursday to one of her great passions: horse racing.
After trying to win over Irish hearts and minds hardened by a century of conflicts with Britain, the queen ventured into the center of Ireland`s vaunted thoroughbred industry with a visit to the National Stud.
On her first trip outside of Dublin, the monarch was shown some of the country`s finest stallions, Jeremy, Amadeus Wolf and Invincible Spirit, while the cream of Ireland`s horsey set wished her good fortune for the upcoming racing season.
"You are always welcome here," said National Stud board Chairman Chryss O`Reilly. "And good luck with Carlton House."
The reference to her prized racer Carlton House — given a fighting chance to win the Epsom Derbys and other major events this summer — brought a smile to the queen`s face.
After a series of high-pressure events capped with an emotional speech at a state dinner hosted Wednesday by Irish President Mary McAleese, the queen seemed content indulging her passion for horses.
She did not flinch when Jeremy suddenly reared a few feet from her, even though those surrounding her seemed to pull back out of safety concerns.
Simon Coveney, Ireland`s minister for agriculture and food, said the tenor of the queen`s visit had changed.
"I think there are two phases to the visit," he said. "The first two days were very much about the emotive history of the two islands, reconciliation and moving forward and respecting the history. I think the queen did that in an extraordinarily generous way. I think the second half of this visit is I hope more relaxing and she`s very interested in racing and horse breeding."
The scene was bucolic when the queen arrived.
Stallions could be heard neighing in the stables, bright sun occasionally peaked through threatening clouds, and the elite of Ireland`s racing world lined the National Stud near the scenic Japanese Gardens. The men dressed in dark suits and many of the women wore colorful dresses, though few tried to match the queen`s elaborate hats.
The queen is known as a skilled breeder and owner who often manages to visit horse farms during international trips that are otherwise filled with more formal events.
The trip to Ireland`s stud farms could have been one she has been looking forward to for decades. On Tuesday, she became the first British monarch to visit the Republic of Ireland, signaling the strengthening of a rapprochement between the two one-time adversaries.
Her husband, Prince Philip, left the National Stud early for a reception in Dublin, and the queen slipped away in her bulletproof Range Rover after the event. She was thought to be making a private visit to other horse facilities in the region, but officials would not confirm her plans.
Once the long awaited state visit is concluded, it would be easy for the queen to make less formal trips to Irish horse country, where some of the world`s finest horses are raised. Ireland is the third-largest producer of thoroughbreds in the world and the industry is important in economic terms, employing nearly 30,000 people in rural areas where jobs can be scarce.
After her excursion, the queen and the British ambassador to Ireland will host an evening event to showcase British and Irish fashion along with some musical performers. Some 2,000 guests are expected to see designs by John Rocha, Michael Leong, Victoria Beckham and others. The Chieftains and other Irish artists will perform.
On Friday, the queen and Prince Philip will visit Cashel and Cork before returning to England.