PRESIDENT Michael D Higgins will arrive in London this afternoon ahead of the start of the first State visit by an Irish head of state.
President Higgins and his wife, Sabina, will be the guests of the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh at Windsor Castle for the four-day visit, which officially begins tomorrow.
The President and a group of Irish officials, which will include Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore, will depart from Baldonnel late this afternoon and arrive at Heathrow Airport ahead of a programme of events, which includes a State banquet.
The visit follows the Queen’s widely hailed visit to Ireland in May 2011 when she was hosted by Higgins’s predecessor Mary McAleese.
Northern Ireland's deputy first minister, Martin McGuinness, who did not meet the British monarch during her Dublin visit, will be present for tomorrow’s State banquet, along with amongst others, Prime Minister David Cameron and Taoiseach Enda Kenny.
The visit will officially begin tomorrow with an early visit to the Irish Embassy in London where they will meet Prince Charles and Camilla.
After a meet and greet they will all depart for Windsor Castle.
The Queen and Prince Phillip will formally greet the President and Sabina at the Royal Dais in Windsor, after which they all travel by horse-drawn carriage for a ceremonial welcome at Windsor Castle.
Members of the general public can watch the Ceremonial Welcome at Datchet Road, Windsor and the Carriage Procession along Thames Street and the High Street.
After arriving in the Quadrangle at Windsor Castle, the President will inspect the Guard of Honour along with Prince Phillip.
The Guard of Honour will give the Royal Salute and the band will play the Irish and British National Anthems.
After a private lunch hosted by The Queen at Windsor Castle, the President and Sabina will be invited to view Irish related items from the Royal Collection, in the Green Drawing Room.
After spending much of the day in Windsor, the President and Sabina will travel back to Westminster Abbey where they will be received by the Dean of Westminster.
Before touring the Abbey, the President will lay a wreath at the Grave of the Unknown Warrior.
In the afternoon, the President will address both Houses in the Royal Gallery and then attend a reception in the Royal Robing Room with members of the All-Party Parliamentary Groups.
The day will then end back in Windsor where the President and Sabina will be guests of honour at the Queen’s State Banquet, where both the Queen and the President will make a short speeches.
Throughout the visit there will be a strong emphasis on the cultural links between the two countries; the President will attend a celebration of Irish culture and arts at the Royal Albert Hall and will visit William Shakespeare's Stratford-on-Avon on Friday.
As happened three years ago, there will be a lot of talk about the close family ties across the Irish Sea and the strong trade and cultural links between Britain and Ireland.