A meeting with the Queen at Buckingham Palace is a rare honour. Few receive an invitation to shake hands with Her Majesty on her own back lawn.
That was the plan for Dr Eamonn O’Neal DL, and his wife Sheila, from Sale, until the coronavirus outbreak meant their Royal engagement in May was cancelled.
Attending the garden party would have been one of Eamonn’s first official duties after his installation as the new High Sheriff of Greater Manchester almost two weeks ago.
His installation still went ahead, although it was a virtual experience instead of at The Monastery, Manchester, which was the intended location.
During the visit the couple had also been invited to dine at the Travellers Club, one of London’s oldest and most exclusive private members’ clubs, and enjoy a tour of the College of Arms.
Eamonn, who is Chief Executive of St Ann’s Hospice, said: “It’s been a frustrating start to my year of office, but that’s not really important in the grand scheme of things when you think of the hardships some people are going through.
“Several engagements have already been cancelled which has meant I haven’t been able to meet representatives from various good causes and other voluntary services face to face although we have held webinars.
“At least my installation made history because it was the first time in more than 1,200 years it’d been conducted over Zoom and Facebook Live. Hopefully, I’ll have a busy second half of my year.”
Guests included Andy Burnham, Mayor of Greater Manchester, Ian Hopkins, Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police and Mike Kane, MP for Wythenshawe and Sale East.
The Labour MP, a former teacher at Springfield Primary School, Sale, and a long-standing friend of Eamonn, closed the ceremony by playing the bagpipes while stood at the end of his driveway.
Eamonn represents the Queen as the ceremonial head of the judiciary in Greater Manchester. The High Sheriff role is the oldest secular title in British history.
Eamonn has met the Queen before, having attended a reception at the Palace in his capacity as managing editor of the Manchester Evening News to mark the 2012 London Olympics. He is a trustee of The Dianne Oxberry Trust, The Diocese of Salford and the High Sheriff Police Trust.
Eamonn and Sheila – known as Sheriffina for the next year – have a son Kieran and daughter Laura. Eamonn is stepfather to Sheila’s son Chris Bisson, the Emmerdale actor. He and partner Rowena Finn have two children, Harry and Ella.
* For more information about the High Sheriff role or to discuss visits email HighSheriffGM@gmail.com.
Pictures by Chris Bull. www.chrisbullphotographer.com