The Prince of Wales flew into Belfast to begin a two-day visit to Northern Ireland. The Duchess of Cornwall will join her husband tomorrow; the couple will then continue on to complete a two-day visit to the Republic of Ireland on Thursday.
Prince Charles’s first engagement in the province was at Carlisle Memorial Church, which is currently undergoing extensive renovations. The north Belfast church closed in 1982 as congregation numbers shrank due to its proximity to the most troubled parts of Belfast. The Belfast Buildings Trust is now bringing it back to life and it is currently occupied by community representatives, faith groups and local entrepreneurs. The building is also to become the permanent home of the Ulster Orchestra.
The Prince was greeted by Belfast City Council’s Lord Mayor, Deirdre Hargey, as well as other local dignitaries, including local MLAs William Humphrey of the DUP and Sinn Féin’s Gerry Kelly and Carál Ni Chuilin.
It is a sign of how far the peace process has progressed that the heir-to-the-throne was able to shake hands with former IRA bomber Kelly, who escaped from the Maze Prison in 1983 while serving a jail sentence for the 1973 bombing of the Old Bailey; during the escape, a prison officer was shot dead. He was later a senior member of Sinn Fein’s negotiating team and served as a minister in the powersharing Executive, which has been inactive since 2017.
During his visit to the church, Charles listened to a recital by Ulster Orchestra, and tasted beer and cheese made by local producers.
The Royal’s next visit was to the Ulster University campus in Coleraine as part of its 50th anniversary celebrations. Members of the University staff, council members and the Ulster University choir welcomed the Prince as he arrived on the campus.Embed from Getty Images
Prince Charles was then escorted to meet some of the sports organisations who work within the university and in and around the area, including Coleraine Strikers FC, a football team made up children with disabilities.Embed from Getty Images
Manchester United legend, Harry Gregg, was also on hand to tell the prince about his foundation, which is based at the campus. Praising Charles for coming to Coleraine, Mr Gregg said The Queen’s eldest son was very knowledgeable about his foundation. Harry Gregg was a member of the Manchester United team during the Munich Air Disaster; after escaping from the plane, Gregg returned to the blazing wreckage to rescue some of his team-mates. Harry Gregg is widely considered to be a hero, and many have been calling for the former footballer to receive a knighthood.
The prince also heard about Northern Ireland’s first Enterprise Zone involving the campus and the local Council. The visit to the university, which has campus in four different parts of Northern Ireland, was concluded with the Prince planting a tree to commemorate his attendance at the celebrations.
Prince Charles then went onto Hillsborough Castle, where he met the leader of the Democratic Unionist Party and former First Minister Arlene Foster, and this evening hosted a reception to mark his visit, with people from all over Northern Ireland in attendance.
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On Wednesday, The Prince of Wales will visit Omagh Hospital in Co. Tyrone and later, in the town of Omagh itself, Charles will be joined by The Duchess of Cornwall to meet those affected by the 1998 Real IRA bomb which killed 29 people, one of the worst atrocities of the Troubles, which occurred after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement.