Prince Charles & Camilla head to Northern Ireland – ships, silversmithing & City Hall

The Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall arrived in Belfast on Tuesday, to begin a short visit to Northern Ireland, and in particular, highlight the centenary of the country.

Prince Charles and Camilla began their eighteenth trip to the capital at City Hall. Belfast City Hall was the site of the opening of the first parliament of Northern Ireland on 22 June 1921, after the partition of Ireland.

Parliament was opened by the Prince’s great-grandfather, George V, following Northern Ireland’s first general election, held in May 1921. As part of their ongoing Decades of Centenary programme, the council is currently undertaking a range of initiatives to explore the 1921 centenary.

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The Prince and Duchess met with historians to discuss the Centenary at City Hall, as well as staff, to hear about the past, present and future of Belfast. They were shown a painting of the 1921 royal opening.

The royal couple, who were last in the area last September, made a short journey to the Education Authority Head Quarters, in the Cathedral Quarter, where they heard about the importance of youth work for the future of Northern Ireland, and its students in their communities.

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Youth workers updated Their Royal Highnesses giving personal testimonies on their experiences and the impact that being supported by the youth services has had for them.

During the engagement, Charles gave a short address, commenting: “I cannot tell you how really inspiring it has been to hear of the tireless work being carried out by youth workers on all sides of the community, and I just wanted to take this opportunity, if I may, to pay a special tribute to your dedication and commitment to the cause of peaceful co-existence.

“Whenever I visit this part of the world, I never cease to be profoundly moved by the work that is being done to heal the pain of the past, to bring understanding and reconciliation in the present, and to build hope for the future,” he continued.

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“All who love this very special part of the world can only wish you renewed strength of spirit and resolve as you take forward this work of such vital importance to these islands. So, thank you ladies and gentlemen for all you do.”

The Duchess was also briefed on Belfast’s aspirations of becoming a UNESCO City of Music, whilst there, and met the women’s steering group behind the bid.

Charles and Camilla then joined a seated conversation led by the Assistant Director for Youth Services, Arlene Kee. It is hoped that this visit will acknowledge the role of youth workers and their contribution to the community, and highlight the services they provide in keeping young people safe.

The Education Authority is responsible for ensuring that efficient and effective primary and secondary education and youth services are available to meet the needs of local children and young people.

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Next, Prince Charles headed to a solo engagement, as he toured the Harland and Wolff Shipyard, where the infamous Titanic was made, in the east of the city.

His visit was to celebrate the company’s 160th anniversary and congratulate staff on their work and contribution to the ship-building industry.

Prince Charles speaks to staff at the Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast (@ClarenceHouse)

Harland and Wolff was established on 11th April 1861 by founders, Sir Edward James Harland, and Gustav Wilhelm Wolff. The company’s heritage includes work on some of the world’s most iconic ships, from the RMS Titanic, RMS Olympic, HMRS Britannic and HMS Belfast, to SS Canberra for P&O and the tanker Myrina – the first super-tanker to be built in the UK.

The Prince of Wales, wearing a hard hat and hi-vis vest, commemorated Belfast’s long history of commercial shipbuilding by touring the drydock, which offers two of the largest drydocks in Europe, as well as seeing the two iconic yellow ‘Goliath’ type gantry cranes – named ‘Samson’ and ‘Goliath’. Samson is the larger of its twin gantry cranes and was completed in 1974, standing at 106 metres tall. Goliath was completed in 1969 and is 96 metres tall; the smaller of the two cranes sits slightly further inland closer to Belfast City.

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The future King then proceeded to the fabrication workshop to view a welding demonstration and meet with staff, learning more about how the site has developed and adapted during its long history.

He commented: “I’m so pleased to hear that there is all sorts of potential new activity here and new fabrication opportunities … and I hope you could encourage a lot more of the young to become apprentices and understand the importance of manufacturing, and to also understand how this country has led the way in so many of these areas.

“We owe all of you an enormous debt of gratitude for your skills and ingenuity, which are so remarkable. Well done all of you and thank you for all the hard work you put in.”

Charles concluded the visit by unveiling a plaque to mark the company’s anniversary. This visit mirrors The Duke of Edinburgh’s 1977 trip to the same drydock. The Prince had the opportunity to meet with an employee who was present when his late father visited, as well meeting as a fourth-generation employee whose family were also part of the 1977 royal visit.

The Royal was also gifted a photo of his father’s visit.

While her husband learnt more about the Belfast shipbuilding history, The Duchess of Cornwall visited 2 Rifles, in her role as Colonel in Chief of The Rifles.

It was in July 2020 that the Duchess took over the role from her father-in-law, The Duke of Edinburgh, during consecutive ceremonies at Windsor and Highgrove.

Earlier this month, The Duchess of Cornwall met Riflemen of 5th Battalion The Rifles in Wiltshire and their families.

The Duchess of Cornwall met with 2 Rifles in Belfast (@ArmyinNI)

In Belfast, the royal visitor was briefed on upcoming events for the battalion, as well as their challenges and opportunities before watching the company conduct field craft training.

Camilla wore her custom green dress, which features the Rifles’ badge on the epaulletes.

She officially opened the Welfare Garden whilst there, which is a space which seeks to provide a place for contemplation and relaxation. The garden was started during lockdown by Sarah Hulyer, whose partner is the unit’s Operations Officer.

The Duchess was joined by Sarah for some flower arranging and the military wife was impressed by the Royals’ skills. “You can tell that The Duchess has an eye for detail and colour. She very quickly put together a very beautiful arrangement.”

Heading to another engagement, The Prince of Wales learnt of conservation work at Slieve Gullion Forest Park, a visitor attraction in County Armagh.

On arrival, the Prince had an opportunity to view the scenery and receive an overview of the work carried out at the site by Geopark Manager, Darren Rice.

His Royal Highness proceeded to tour the park following the path through deciduous woodland. He had chance to meet donors, trustees, volunteers and conservation workers along the way.

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The Prince learnt how the park operates to reduce erosion on traditional stonework and how it supports local trade, buying sheep’s wool to create fleeces to under-lay the footpaths. Charles is a committed conservationist and campaigner for the protection of the natural world.

Next, the royal visitor went to The Ring of Gullion, which is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and is one of the best examples of a volcanic ring dyke system in the UK. At the centre of this area rises Slieve Gullion, a dramatic landscape of rugged uplands, forest and wild terrain.

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The Ring of Gullion boasts incredible biodiversity, with some of Northern Ireland’s most threatened species, such as the red squirrel and the pine marten, find sanctuary there. Also on the agenda was sharing the work of the park to help preserve the local population of such squirrels.

The Prince was treated to a musical performance by a group of children from The Ring of Gullion Traditional Arts Partnership (TAP), a community arts association, focused on ‘developing expertise in the performance and knowledge of traditional music and song through increased cross-generational cultural activity and greater community cohesion’.

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It was also chance for Charles to hear about the Irish myths and legends that surround the park.

The country park is carrying out a number of conservation activities and has a large volunteer programme. It also encourages traditional crafts such as dry-stone walling, and acts as a focus point for community engagement.

Back with The Duchess of Cornwall, she moved to visit a local silversmith, Cara Murphy, in Hillsborough, County Down, and toured her workshop.

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Cara set up her small business 26 years ago and is the daughter of a silversmith, sharing a workshop with her father. This craft is a skill that has been passed down the generations of the Murphy family, as her daughter is also currently a student of silversmithing at the Glasgow School of Art.

Camilla had the opportunity to view Cara’s sketches and examples of her silverwork, as well as the chance to watch Murphy demonstrate part of the silversmithing process.  Ever one for getting involved, the Royal took a hammer and mimicked what was shown to her.

Camilla tries out silversmithing with Cara Murphy in HIllsborough (@ClarenceHouse)

Cara is a Freeman of the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths and an Associate Lecturer at Ulster University, and her commissions have included the Grand National Trophy, and The Silver Trust at 10 Downing Street.

The Queen once gifted The President of Ireland a silver mug that had been made by Ms Murphy’s father.

In the evening of the first day of engagements, The Prince of Wales hosted office sessions at Hillsborough Castle.

He got to meet First Minister Arlene Foster.

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