Thursday 29 September 2016

On Her Majesty's secret service - children stay mum ahead of royal visit

Jane O'Faherty

Published 29/06/2016 | 02:30

Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip visit the Giant’s Causeway in Co Antrim
Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip visit the Giant’s Causeway in Co Antrim

A group of schoolchildren were among Her Majesty's secret service ahead of Queen Elizabeth II's visit to Northern Ireland.

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While a select few had already been aware of the royals' impending tour, the visit only became common knowledge on Monday.

Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh during a visit to Bushmills Village, where she is unveiling a statue of Robert Quigg, VC, during the second day of her visit to Northern Ireland to mark her 90th birthday. Photo: Carrie Davenport/PA Wire
Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh during a visit to Bushmills Village, where she is unveiling a statue of Robert Quigg, VC, during the second day of her visit to Northern Ireland to mark her 90th birthday. Photo: Carrie Davenport/PA Wire

Grace Higgins (9) from The Irish Society's Primary School in Coleraine presented a bouquet of flowers to the monarch, while Chloe Walker (10) from Ballycastle Integrated Primary School gave her a hand-crafted wooden bowl.

The girls told the Irish Independent they were sworn to secrecy about the royal couple's visit to the North, even though they knew two weeks before anybody else.

"My friend accidentally found out, and I told her not to tell anyone," Grace said.

"It was so hard to keep it a secret," she admitted.

"All my friends were asking: 'Why are you off next Tuesday?'.

"We had to give in a note [to school] saying we'd have to be off, and I couldn't tell anyone why," Chloe added.

The Queen had arrived at Hillsborough on Monday evening, already demonstrating her sharp wit when meeting the North's Deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness.

When he asked how she was, she replied: "Well, I'm still alive."

Britain's Queen Elizabeth II meets Northern Ireland First Minister Arlene Foster at Hillsborough Castle, Belfast. Photo: Aaron McCracken/Harrisons/PA Wire
Britain's Queen Elizabeth II meets Northern Ireland First Minister Arlene Foster at Hillsborough Castle, Belfast. Photo: Aaron McCracken/Harrisons/PA Wire

Read more: Queen tells Martin McGuinness: 'Well, I’m still alive anyway'

The Queen and her husband Prince Philip are in the North as part of her 90th birthday celebrations. Yesterday morning, she chatted with local artists, volunteers and staff at the Giant's Causeway Visitor Centre.

It was the first time the monarch had visited the world-renowned attraction.

But for Trevor Woods of Mount Ida Pottery, it was the second time he has met the monarch.

Britain's Queen Elizabeth II meets Martin McGuinness at Hillsborough Castle, Belfast, at the beginning of a two day Royal visit to Northern Ireland. Photo: Aaron McCracken/ Harrisons/ PA Wire
Britain's Queen Elizabeth II meets Martin McGuinness at Hillsborough Castle, Belfast, at the beginning of a two day Royal visit to Northern Ireland. Photo: Aaron McCracken/ Harrisons/ PA Wire

"I met her back in 1977," he told the Irish Independent.

"That was a lovely opportunity then...That was 39 years ago, and she still does this every day," he marvelled.

"At 90 years of age, this could be the last time she visits Northern Ireland," he added.

Despite the secrecy surrounding the visit, resourceful tourists managed to climb on to the windows of the visitor centre to catch a glimpse of proceedings below.

While selfies were out of the question, rules about decorum didn't stop Prince Philip having a laugh.

Joshua Byrant (10), from Portstewart, also met the royal party and said the prince was all too ready to entertain.

The youngster presented him with a hand-crafted oak bowl inspired by the Co Antrim landscape.

"When he took the bowl, he pretended to almost drop it because it was really, really heavy," Joshua said.

"None of my friends will believe me, but luckily my mum got loads of photos."

The royals then stepped outside to the iconic causeway stones, before attending a Somme memorial service in Bushmills village.

Later in the day, the couple had a private lunch at Royal Portrush Golf Club, followed by a steam train trip from Coleraine to Bellarena, Co Derry. As the royal train sped past, crowds of onlookers lined the tracks, clutching Union Jacks and cheering.

The visit is the Queen's first public engagement since British voters' shock decision to leave the EU.

While officials wouldn't be drawn on whether she discussed Brexit with local politicians, she met First Minister Arlene Foster and Ian Paisley Junior yesterday.

Meanwhile, Terence Brannigan of Tourism Northern Ireland said he was "delighted" to show the royal couple what the region had to offer.

Irish Independent

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