It was Prince Harry’s first visit to Northern Ireland yesterday, where he focussed on the emergency services and young people, before attending a garden party.
His first stop of the day was to open the new Northern Ireland Ambulance Service station in Ballymena. Harry received a briefing from the design team behind the new £5.6 million station, and saw a staff a demonstration of their skills and training, including the Hazardous Area Response Team (HART) capability, Emergency Resilience, and Training Team; the Prince also toured the facility and examined some of the vehicle used by the emergency service.
Of course, a royal visit can rarely go by without a plaque unveiling, which Prince Harry did to officially open the station and commemorate his visit. As he left, the 5th-in-line greeted those outside who had waited in the rain to see him.
Co-operation Ireland – a peace-building organisation – was Harry’s next stop. The group workings to encourage and promote interaction, dialogue and collaboration, both within Northern Ireland and between Northern Ireland and its neighbour, the Republic of Ireland. It has been operating for 40 years and helped arrange The Queen’s historic visit to the Republic in 2012.
Numerous youth groups brought together by Co-operation Ireland got to meet the Royal, explaining how the organisation has facilitated their involvement, at Belfast’s The MAC. Harry also learnt about the NI National Citizenship Service and the Amazing the Space programmes, and called the young people ‘outstanding’.
Speaking of the visit, the charity’s chief executive, Peter Sheridan said: “Here was an opportunity for young people to say what they think about peace-building, about the issues of today, and you could see the connection between them and Prince Harry, who is a young person himself,” he said.
“They sat down and had conversations, all of us have prejudices but to be able to sit down and have conversations about things which are of common interest, be it mental health or how we build peace in this place. I think it went incredibly well.”
Something of a walkabout followed, with screaming fans welcoming the Prince to Belfast. Some congratulated him on Prince George’s first day of school, while others commented upon his girlfriend, Meghan Markle’s recent Vanity Fair interview, in which she said the couple were ‘happy and in love’.
Ending the rainy visit, Harry was the royal guest of honour at the annual Hillsborough garden party. 2,000 guests gathered on the lawns of Hillsborough Castle – the official Northern Irish residence – to celebrate people’s contribution to their community.
The Prince changed from casual chinos and a blazer into a suit for the occasion, after being greeted by local primary school children at the castle.
Last year’s guests were The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, with The Earl and Countess of Wessex fulfilling that duty in 2015.