As Second World War dance music wafted through the open doors of Crom Castle’s magnificent West Wing conservatory, history and nostalgia mingled with the crowd.
“We used to live here in the piggery,” said iconic BBC conversationalist Gloria Hunniford, with reference to a holiday cottage that her family rented on the estate.
The Stars and Stripes flew proudly from one of Crom’s soaring stone towers as over 200 guests gathered below to mark the 70th anniversary of D-Day.
A three-piece band was playing a Glenn Miller number when recently elected District Council chairman Bert Johnston told me: “This is a very special day” – but the weather wasn’t listening!
The sky was getting greyer over the castle’s exquisite Victorian roof scape, set amidst rolling hills, lakes and trees – a view that thousands of American GIs had seen as they trained for Normandy.
“I am pleased to learn of your event today,” the Queen relayed in a typewritten message from Buckingham Palace.
Her Majesty commemorated the courage and sacrifice of the “gallant men and women” from many different nations “and we remember them on this day in Co Fermanagh where many American and Canadian troops were based”.
“The welcome our troops received in Fermanagh was legendary,” said USA Vice President Joe Biden in a message conveyed to Crom’s guests by US Consul General Gregory Burton.
Hosted by the Earl and Countess of Erne, the commemoration involved an impressive line-up of speakers as well as wartime memories.
The Earl wasn’t in residence when the US Army requisitioned his castle.
“The American officers broke a few ornaments and things,” he told me, “but I had them all repaired.”
Arlene Foster MLA noted the growing public interest in the role of Fermanagh in WWII, offering great opportunities to develop further connections with the USA.
Belleek Pottery’s managing director John Maguire recounted a piece of his firm’s pottery that went from Fermanagh to Normandy’s beaches and beyond with a young American sergeant, before he sent it by air to his mum in the States. It arrived completely intact.
Former British soldier Roger Edmondson announced: “Oak trees have now been planted at 20 former US army locations across Fermanagh,” and everyone involved went forward to receive an engraved plaque which will be placed near the trees.
A number of schoolchildren proudly accepted their plaques.
“It’s so important that schools are involved,” said Mr Edmondson.
As the event was ending all the guests were invited to a group photograph on the castle lawn.
It started raining and everyone went home with no photograph taken but with plenty of memories.