On St Patrick’s Day, we are used to seeing William and Catherine visit the Irish Guards to mark the patron saint’s day. But 2023 is different: this year, The Princess of Wales attended in her role as Colonel of the regiment, marking her first ceremony in the role.
This highlight of the Guards’ calendar was also a handover of responsibilities of from The Prince of Wales to his wife at Mons Barracks, Aldershot.
The day began on the Parade Square with a royal salute to the Princess, who then presented sprigs of shamrock to Officers and Warrant Officers to pass to the ranks of soldiers to wear in the March drizzle.
William has been relieved of his colonelcy as the new Colonel of the Welsh Guards, reflecting his role as heir to the throne. He will ride in their uniform this Trooping the Colour.
Kate was appointed to the role earlier in the year, and last week saw the personnel in action during training drills on snowy Salisbury plains.
The Princess wore a teal ensemble for the parade, with the buttons on her coat reflecting the grouping of the guards’ own red tunics, and her Irish Guards shamrock brooch.
A visit to the Irish Guards isn’t complete without their regimental mascot, Seamus, a wolfhound, who also received his own shamrock for his collar.
It was then time for the speeches. Prince William gave his farewell to the regiment, thanking them. ‘Whilst I am extremely happy to be here celebrating St Patrick’s Day with you once again, the Prince said, ‘I’m incredibly sad to be giving this speech, as it really does mean my time as your Colonel has come to an end.
‘It has been one of the great honours of my life to hold that title; I’m proud of everything it stands for – just as I’m immensely proud of every single one of you.
‘I may be stepping aside, but in Colonel Catherine you have a committed, focussed, and already incredibly loyal 11th Colonel. As you serve together over the years ahead, know that I will continue to watch you, with huge pride in having been one of you.’
Catherine’s first speech to the men and women spoke of her promise to them in her new role. ‘It really is a true honour to be your Colonel. I am here to listen to you, to support you, and to champion you in all you do – this is a responsibility I do not take lightly.’
Referencing her visit to her regiment she mentioned how it ‘was bitterly cold’, and that ‘displaying your skills to yet another visitor was probably the last thing any of you wanted to do, all I saw was enthusiasm, pride and incredible dedication.’
She described how impressed she was with the guards’ ‘boundless, irreverent, glorious sense of humour’ which made them ‘unique’.
‘Before I close, however, I want to thank Colonel William,’ the Princess added. ‘He has always talked about his fierce pride for this Regiment. I know he will continue to support us all in the work we do.’
In response, the Irish Guards removed their caps and gave a rousing three cheers to the Prince of Wales and then another to The Princess of Wales, followed by a march-past where Kate took her first salute as Royal Colonel.
Lieutenant Colonel James Aldridge MBE, their Commanding Officer, said: ‘We are enormously grateful to HRH The Prince of Wales for his support for over 11 years, including through operational tours to Afghanistan, Iraq, South Sudan and Cyprus, three Queen’s Birthday Parades, and our Presentation of New Colours last year.
‘We offer a very warm welcome to The Princess of Wales, who is of course no stranger having handed out Shamrock on St Patrick’s Day Parades throughout her husband’s Colonelcy, and who has already shown her commitment visiting Irish Guards training teams on Salisbury Plain in the snow last week.’
After the parade, The Prince and Princess sat for official Officers’ and Sergeants’ Mess photographs and met soldiers and their families.
The couple were shown a new regimental painting of the Irish Guards by artist Louise Pragnell, which was painted this year in the state rooms of the Royal Hospital Chelsea and includes the Regimental Mascot, Seamus.
It was also an opportunity to present Medals for Long Service and Good Conduct to six Irish Guardsmen and a special Joint Commanders’ Commendation to Captain Chris O’Neill for his work assuring the training that the Irish Guards were delivering to the Ukrainian Armed Forces in Ukraine, and overseeing the safe extraction from the country just prior to the Russian invasion.
The Prince and Princess visited the Guardsman’s lunch where the longest-serving Guardsman in the Battalion, Guardsman Minnis, proposed a toast to Their Royal Highnesses and thanked their new Royal Colonel for presenting the gift of shamrock.
Here, they toasted with a Guinness each, and chatted to personnel – with plenty of chatter about tomorrow’s Ireland vs England rugby match.