A soon-to-be-planted public wood honouring World War One soldiers from the island of Ireland was given a Royal seal of approval by Princess Anne yesterday.
The Princess Royal jetted into Londonderry during the afternoon, and headed straight to a now-empty site at the Glenshane Road, south-east of the city.
The 53-acre tract has been bought by the Woodland Trust and, come November, it will begin being planted with some 40,000 trees as part of a centenary commemoration for the 1914–18 war.
Princess Anne was met by an array of dignitaries and VIPs, including East Londonderry MP Gregory Campbell as well as potential donors to the project.
Among those welcoming her was Patrick Cregg, director of the trust’s Northern Ireland branch, who said: “We’re creating four centenary woods right across the UK; one in Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales and England.
“Her Royal Highness the Princess Royal has graciously accepted our invitation to be patron for the initiative.
“She was very, very keen on what we’re doing – very keen on the fact it was an all-Ireland initiative to remember those from both north and south who gave their lives.”
The Princess Royal last visited the Province in November, and her visit follows that of Prince Andrew who flew over in March.
Princess Anne has, in fact, visited the Woodland Trust three times in Northern Ireland.
For example, she had been patron of the troubled Jubilee Wood project in Whitehead, east Antrim, where many of the newly-planted saplings ended up having to be removed up because they were infected by ash die-back disease.
The new Co Londonderry site will be planted with oak, birch, alder, holly and hazel, and the planting is set to continue until 2018.
The public will be encouraged to plant a tree – which can be dedicated to individuals, families or organisations.
Mr Cregg pledged that it will eventually grow into a public woodland, fully accessible to all.
The Princess Royal unveiled a plaque to mark the beginning of the project, and Mr Cregg said her message was this: “She hoped that the people of Ireland, north and south, would actually fall in behind and support this project.
“She saw it as a very important project that did merit the support of everybody.”
As she left, she was presented with a small wood-carving by Mr Cregg.
See Morning View, page 20