Camilla is (literally) the toast of Galway with a cocktail christened The Duchess
Camilla was gobsmacked. "That's my daughter!" she exclaimed with a laugh. In fairness, the last place that the Duchess of Cornwall would have expected to find a snapshot of a member of her own family was affixed to a wall in Claddagh National School.
But the kids in the cheerful, bright school had made a collage (topped by a giant paper crown) of various royal encounters experienced by their friends or relations - and among them was a photo of Laura Parker-Bowles taken by a local woman in a Venetian museum in 2000. "She enjoyed meeting her," wrote Oliver from 5th class.
And as it transpired, everyone enjoyed meeting Camilla during her busy schedule in the city yesterday afternoon, while Prince Charles visited the Burren.
Her first port of call was at the school in Claddagh, and at the appointed hour lines of children took their places outside - the school band, cheerleaders and vigilant teachers. The busy hoovers were hastily stashed away, the corridors were perfumed with Eau Royale (fresh paint and fresh flowers), and the windows festooned with drawings of Tricolours and Union Jacks.
"Herself is running a bit late," announced one teacher anxiously scanning the sky, which was sporadically unleashing monsoon downpours.
But their luck held, and Herself (surely the perfect Irish abbreviation of HRH) arrived in sunshine, wreathed in smiles and accompanied by Tanaiste Joan Burton. As a patron of the National Literacy Trust in the UK, Camilla toured the classrooms with great interest, chatting to the pupils and their mentors from the Suas literacy support programme.
She also met the King of Claddagh, Michael Lynskey (whose regal status sorely perplexed her protocol people, but they got on grand). Good vibrations abounded. In the school-hall, she was welcomed by principal Michael Gallagher and presented with a bouquet of flowers by local girl serendipitously named Charlotte Elizabeth Curran who was celebrating her eighth birthday (everyone sang 'Happy Birthday', including the Duchess) and with a gold Claddagh brooch by Jonathan Margetts of Dillon's jewellers. He explained that Dillon's had presented Queen Victoria with a Claddagh ring during her visit in 1849. "She told me she had always wanted a piece of Claddagh jewellery, and I told her to wear it in good health," explained Jonathan afterwards.
Camilla said a few words - she even made a brave but mangled stab at the cupla focail, "Dia daoibh", and told the room of children, staff and parents that it was "about 50 years" since she had been in the West of Ireland. She added: "Ireland is one of my favourite places - when I hear your accents it always makes me feel better". On leaving the school she did an impromptu walkabout, and she and Joan Burton greeted a group of local women who were waiting to say hello. As the Tanaiste was departing in her car, one of the women shouted "Bye Joan, and give us an increase in the pension".
Even a few of the stern-faced gardai smiled at that one. On arriving at the Druid theatre, she again made a beeline for a waiting crowd of about 200, posing for photos and shaking hands before heading into the theatre where actors performed the skullduggery-filled opening scene from Shakespeare's Richard II.
Then it was a stroll across the road to the House Hotel to sample some delicacies from the Taste of the Wild Atlantic Way food festival. She snacked on some cheese at the Sheridan's stand, and had a chat with the staff at Kelly's Oysters, apologising for not taking one. "My husband would demolish the lot," she told them.
"She's very easy to talk to, very down-to-earth," said Richard Brady of Brady's Butchers Athenry - an observation heard repeatedly during the day. And unlike the Duke of Edinburgh who showed great self-sacrifice by not taking a swig of the perfectly-poured pint of Guinness put before him during the visit to the storehouse in 2011, Camilla was happy to test the special cocktail, The Duchess, concocted in her honour by chief cocktail bartender of the hotel, Aileen Cunningham, which was made from Dingle gin, elderflower liqueur, Mumm champagne and a dusting of powdered lemon.
Camilla hoisted the slim flute and took a dainty sip. "Very good," she smiled and posed for the bank of cameras, like the expert she is. She knows Royal + Tipple = Big Photo. Then she turned and handed the glass to a journalist standing behind her. "It tastes very innocuous, but it has a punch in it," she laughed.
With an evening dinner ahead in the company of the hospitable Michael D and Sabina Higgins, it's wise for one to pace oneself.