The Prince of Wales was advised of the best way to drink cider wearing a straw mask as he came face to face with members of an ancient folk group on a visit to Northern Ireland today.
The Prince and the Duchess of Cornwall encountered a troupe of enthusiastic mummers, clad head to toe in woven straw costumes, as they toured Enniskillen Castle museum in Co Fermanagh.
After getting a close-range blast from one of their hunting horns, Charles commended the present-day generation of Aughakillymaude mummers, who still perform mid-winter plays to ward off evil spirits, for keeping the century-old rural art alive.
“I’m so glad you keep that tradition going,” he said.
Captain Mummer Jim Ledwith told the Prince that the good times flow when mummers, who are also known as the Men of Straw, meet up with similar groups from England.
“It helps if they are cider drinkers,” he added.
Noting the potential impracticalities of drinking while wearing a face-covering straw hat, Charles enquired: “But you take the lid off first before you pour it in?”
Captain Ledwith agreed that was the best strategy to employ.
Turning to another straw man, the Prince remarked: “By God, you must get pretty hot in there.”
“It gets hot surely,” replied the mummer. “You don’t want to have hay fever.”
Charles and Camilla are on a two-day visit to Northern Ireland, with the Enniskillen Castle museum being the first engagement.
After arriving at Enniskillen Airport, they travelled the short distance to the landmark stone edifice on the banks of Lough Erne, which houses military and non-military historic collections.
Enniskillen has the unique honour of being the only town in Great Britain and Ireland to give its name to two regiments; the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers (infantry) and the 5th Royal Inniskilling Dragoon Guards (cavalry), now part of the Royal Irish Regiment and the Royal Dragoon Guards respectively.
The royal couple, accompanied by Lord-Lieutenant of Co Fermanagh Viscount Brookebrough and Minister of State at the Northern Ireland Office Andrew Robathan, were welcomed by a group of Union Flag-waving school children and by the pipes and drums of the Royal Irish Regiment band.
Inside they visited an exhibition on an ancient “crannog” settlement, uncovered during a recent road construction project in Enniskillen.
The Prince then moved to the rifle range where the curator of the Inniskillings Museum, Neil Armstrong, gave him an overview of the site’s history.
Elsewhere, the Duchess viewed a display of Belleek China, for which Co Fermanagh is famous, and saw traditional methods of butter-making in an adjacent display.
The royal couple then attended a reception in the nearby 1881 building which was attended by around 120 guests drawn from a wide range of organisations associated with the museum.
The Duchess had the opportunity to view some of the exhibitions from Action Mental Health, including local basket-makers, and sample some Co Fermanagh produce.
During the visit, the couple also had the chance to view a painting of the Queen’s visit to Enniskillen on her Jubilee tour of 2012, depicting her walking the short but symbolic journey from St McCartin’s Church of Ireland cathedral across the road to St Michael’s Catholic church.
On their second engagement of the day, the pair visited one of Northern Ireland’s most beautiful houses and gardens at Florence Court.
The popular tourist attraction consists of an 18th-century mansion, surrounded by gardens and parkland which extends to 250 acres.
Formerly the home of the Earls of Enniskillen, Florence Court was gifted to the National Trust by Michael, Viscount Cole in 1953 and, following a major fire in 1955, the house was restored in a major conservation project.