After an 11.5-hour flight, Premier Li Keqiang arrived in Shannon, Ireland at about 2:00 p.m. local time on Sunday, 17th May 2015. During this brief technical stopover, the Irish Government arranged for the Premier an eventful programme comparable to that of an official visit, which included a farm visit, bilateral talks, a signing ceremony and a family-style private dinner hosted by the Irish Prime Minister and his wife.
When Premier Li Keqiang's motorcade arrived at Ashford Castle Hotel in the west of Ireland, four bag pipers dressed in green tops and red checkered skirts were playing traditional Irish tunes. Together with five cabinet ministers who had driven over 200 kilometres, Prime Minister Enda Kenny and his wife Fionnuala O'Kelly greeted the Chinese Premier and his wife at the entrance of the castle.
Because of the flight range constraints of the aircraft, Premier Li Keqiang had to have a "technical stopover" at Shannon Airport on his way to South America. But from a farm visit to bilateral talks and a signing ceremony, and to a family dinner between the two couples, the itinerary proposed by the Irish Government was almost characteristic of an official visit.
Highlighting the fact that Irish exports to China amount to no more than 4% of Ireland's GDP, Mr. Enda Kenny expressed high appreciation to Premier Li for choosing to visit Ireland en route to South American countries.
In a joint appearance before the media at the conclusion of his bilateral talks with the Irish Prime Minister, Premier Li Keqiang commented with a smile, "Instead of a South American country, Ireland has become the first stop of my official trip to South America."
Arriving at Shannon Airport at 2:00 p.m. local time, Premier Li Keqiang and his wife first visited a 107-hectare family farm with a history of over 250 years, accompanied by Mr. and Mrs. Kenny. Here on the farm Li Keqiang was warmly received with family-style hospitality and was entertained with Irish music and dancing as well as home-made snack foods.
According to Kenny, these elements were intended to present a miniature snapshot of both Irish culture and agri-food industry, which he hoped would help the Chinese Premier get a sense of the high safety standards of Irish food production as well as the opportunities arising from sustainable development.
Li Keqiang and his wife had congenial coversations with Mr. and Mrs. Kenny as well as the Garveys. Seated in Mr. Cathal Garvey's kitchen around an oval wooden tea table, they talked about the differences in "family traditions" between China and Ireland, and then sampled foods provided the host, including those produced on his own farm by his family. Mr. Kenny also told Mr. Li Keqiang that he planned to introduce the Chinese language as a curriculum subject into Irish colleges and senior high schools.
Their conversations were conducted in English, without the need of interpretation. The only exception occurred when the Irish Minister for Agriculture was telling the Chinese guests about the Origin Green Certificate granted by Irish authorities to family farms, which serves a three-fold function of ensuring food safety and production quality, origin traceability, and sustainability and environment friendliness.
Li Keqiang immediately turned to the interpreter, "Please translate what Minister Coveney said into Chinese for our Minister of Agriculture."
Toward the end of the farm visit, Prime Minister Kenny excused himself earlier so that he could get to the hotel in time to greet Premier Li Keqiang again. The two leaders then held a round of formal bilateral talks.
The one-hour bilateral meeting went very well. At its conclusion a group photograph was suggested and taken, with Kenny and his Chinese ministerial guests seated in the front and their counterparts standing behind.
Li Keqiang asked the media photographers to wait a second so that the table flags could be properly placed between him and his counterpart. Kenny took Li Keqiang's hand so that the Chinese and Irish media could capture pictures that would do justice to their friendliness and warmth.
After the group photo, the Premier and the Prime Minister witnessed signing of deals by ministers on shared commitment to facilitating people-to-people exchanges and deepening cooperation in agriculture. They made statements to the media after the signing ceremony.
It was already evening, nearly 3:00 a.m. Beijing Time. Despite the nearly-12-hour long distance flight, Premier Li Keqiang was beaming and buoyant in spirits and spoke in a relaxed tone, "I had an in-depth exchange of views with Prime Minister Kenny on China-Ireland relations and a wide range of topics of mutual interest."
Kenny said that Ireland hoped to strengthen its cooperation with China in trade, agriculture, finance, aircraft leasing, clean energy, bio-pharmaceutics, education, tourism, etc. and that he would like to see people-to-people exchanges further expanded. He also said that Ireland would be ready to serve as a "gateway" to the European markets for Chinese companies.
In response, Li Keqiang said with a smile, "Ireland has turned out to be my gateway to South America; it can certainly serve as a gateway to Europe."
The dinner that night was a family-style private dinner, with Mr. and Mrs. Kenny hosting their counterparts. Among Premier Li Keqiang's gifts to Kenny was premium green tea "Maofeng Tea" from the Yellow Mountain in the Premier's home province of Anhui; Prime Minister Kenny presented to the Premier a collection of famous Irish poet W.B. Yeats' poems, among other things.
Li Keqiang and his wife extended to Mr. and Mrs. Kenny a cordial invitation to visit China again, which the Kennys happily accepted.
At about 8:00 p.m. local time, the Premier concluded the first day of his trip. He had been at work for over 20 hours since his special plane took off from Beijing early in the morning.