DUBLIN – A beaming Queen Elizabeth II received a five-minute standing ovation from an adoring Dublin crowd Thursday evening after hosting a British and Irish fashion show and musical performances on her final night in the Irish capital.
It was the first time the Irish public had gotten a chance to express their views about her landmark four-day state visit — the first of a British monarch to the Republic of Ireland — and the queen seemed surprised by the warmth of the 2,000 guests at the Convention Center Dublin.
She waved enthusiastically at the crowd at the conclusion of the gala, which marked her final appearance in Dublin before moving on to Cashel and Cork on Friday before a late afternoon flight home.
Television personality Gay Byrne, who presented the show, told the audience: "You were present at an historic occasion. Remember it."
The show included a presentation of Irish and British fashions from designers including John Rocha, Victoria Beckham and others, and musical performances by Westlife, Riverdance and other favorites.
The upbeat mood reflected a positive response to the queen's attempt to put the tense relations between the two nations in the past with a series of symbolic events and a strong speech expressing sympathy for those who had suffered during the long simmering conflicts between Britain and Ireland.
An overwhelming security operation kept the queen from mingling with Dubliners and also kept many local people from getting close enough to catch a glimpse of her, but newspapers and TV shows were filled with positive coverage of her visit, which had been years in the making.
Earlier in the day, the queen turned her attention Thursday to one of her great passions: horse racing. She 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 interest in 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 queen's visit reflected the central role horses and horse facing play in Irish life. He also said the tenor of the queen's visit had changed now that the serious issued had been addressed.
"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 at National Stud 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, her fashion trademark.
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.
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 itinerary.
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.