A County Cork fishmonger who met Britain’s Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip on their state visit to Ireland has said they “hit it off like a hand in a glove.”
Pat O’Connell, who runs a stall in the English Market, was speaking after Buckingham Palace announced the death of Prince Philip at the age of 99.
On Lunchtime Live this afternoon, he said he met the royal couple twice – once on their historic first-ever official visit to Ireland in 2011 and a second time when he was invited to visit them at the palace.
“I suppose we all have our perceptions of these people when we meet them and sometimes the reality and the perception are quite different,” he said.
“To actually meet them, they couldn’t have been more down to earth; couldn’t have had a better sense of humour and couldn’t have had a better appreciation of the food that was on offer in the English Market.
“We just kind of hit it off like a hand in a glove really. We had fabulous craic that day and spent the whole few minutes we were together laughing and speaking about fish.
“I was struck by the wonderful couple that they were. Very ordinary and she refers to him as Phil and it was just kind of really, wow these are just the perfect mix really.”
He said the couple were “just absolutely normal people enjoying their chat and the fun and the jokes.”
“We were showing her the monkfish - which we call the call the mother-in-law fish in the English Market - and I was kind of wondering should I say mother-in-law fish or should I say monkfish and she just thought it was so funny, in a nice way.
“We just hit it off and had a fantastic day and I think the English Market really shone on that day. It was a huge welcome to the city, with the crowds outside on the streets.”
He said he left the fishmongers clothes at home and “dressed up a little bit” when he was invited over to visit them at Buckingham Palace in 2014.
“There was a private audience for about six or seven of us beforehand so we were up in this really plush room chatting away and the Queen and Prince Philip walked in and the first thing she said was, ‘oh my fishmonger has come over,’” he said.
“I thought ‘oh god, I better be on my best behaviour’ but it was an incredible moment.
“You don’t expect a fishmonger from Cork to be in Buckingham Palace and to be picked out by the Queen as the first face she recognised, so I just thought, ‘oh god.’
“So yeah look, just fantastic memories of wonderful visits and wonderful people and very down to Earth and it is just a really sad day I think.”
Mr O’Connell said he was approached by the British Ambassador to Ireland a few months after the royal couple’s visit and told that the Queen, “just loved the market and the atmosphere.”
“I said, ‘yes ambassador but sure we only did what we always do’ and he said, ‘yes Pat but that was the magic because not everybody does what they normally do when they meet the Queen of England.’”
“He said she just so loved being treated as a normal person with a normal sense of humour and a normal bit of fun and I think that was actually the magic on the day.”