Thirteen players from Ireland’s 2009 Grand Slam-winning squad, numerous members of the management and support staff, IRFU officials and Irish rugby legends such as Jack Kyle and Willie John McBride were hosted at a civic reception at Hillsborough Castle on Thursday, where they met Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh.
The civic reception for the Grand Slam winners, hosted by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Shaun Woodward MP, coincided with the second day of Queen Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh’s two-day visit to Northern Ireland.
Hosted at Hillsborough Castle, the royals’ official residence in Northern Ireland, Ireland captain Brian O’Driscoll and head coach Declan Kidney brought the RBS 6 Nations and Triple Crown trophies along for the occasion and the President of Ireland, Mary McAleese and her husband, Dr. Martin McAleese, were also in attendance.
The royal couple were introduced to and chatted with the visiting party, which fittingly included Jack Kyle and Jimmy Nelson from Ireland’s original Grand Slam team of 1948.
Brian O’Driscoll said: “I think the players from the Republic understand what the Queen means as much as the northern players do to the southern players when they meet Mary McAleese.
“So it’s a reciprocation and an understanding and it’s another opportunity to be patted on the back, so that can’t be a bad thing!
“The Six Nations trophy has done more travelling in the last month, I’d say, than it has done in its existence, but I think that’s what 61 years of not winning the Grand Slam does.
“We’ll enjoy it while we have it. Hopefully it won’t be another 61 years.
“But obviously we’re very happy to be up here in the north to share the wealth on that front.”
Declan Kidney added: “President Mary McAleese had a reception for us, the Queen has us here today. It’s just humbling really. It’s been a fantastic experience for us.”
Shaun Woodward said: “It is a great privilege and an honour to welcome her Majesty the Queen and his Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh to this very special reception.
“I am also absolutely delighted to welcome the Ireland squad to Hillsborough Castle. They are an inspiration to everyone and I would like to pay tribute to their efforts and dedication which brought them such a deserved victory.”