In her final official engagement outside the State, President Mary McAleese and her husband were guests of honour at a reception in Hillsborough Castle tonight hosted by the Northern Ireland Secretary of State, Owen Paterson.

Mr Paterson praised the President for her work as bridge builder.

He thanked her the what she had achieved for Northern Ireland, the island of Ireland and for all across these islands.

He described the visit by Queen Elizabeth II in May as truly historic and said to the President 'the fact that it was finally able to happen at all was very much down to you.'

He told her she had set the standard for everyone to.

In her remarks, the President referred to her wish, expressed at the start of her inauguration 14 years ago, to build bridges across history's chasms.

She said "I believe we are flying now, straight and sure, surprising the world.

“And now we know where we are going - the means of transport are equality, parity of esteem, mutual respect, dialogue and partnership. The destination is peace. That is where we want to be. That is where our hearts lie."