The Co Down parish of Kilmood, near Ballygowan welcomed a special visitor today – His Royal Highness The Duke of Kent.
The duke visited St Mary’s Church for a service marking the unveiling and dedication of the church’s newly installed Walker pipe organ – an instrument that is more than 100 years old and was rescued from a church in England, restored and given a new lease of life.
The event was also a celebration of the church’s Peace Bells, which were unveiled in November 2018 to mark the centenary of the Armistice.
Speaking to the News Letter after the duke’s visit, the Rector of St Mary’s, Rev Dr Stanley Gamble, said the event had been “a terrific success”.
“It all went extremely well. There was glorious sunshine, the children were out to welcome him and he thoroughly enjoyed his visit to Kilmood.
“Everybody was in good form and the whole thing went off without a hitch,” he said.
Ahead of the service, the duke was introduced to Dr Terry Cross and representatives of the David Cross Foundation for Peace and Reconciliation.
He was shown the Cross Memorial Bell, which was installed in memory of Dr Cross’s father, William Maxwell Cross, who served in 8th (Belfast) Heavy Anti-Aircraft Regiment during World War Two, and his son David, who died of skin cancer at the age of 33.
Dr Cross, Fr Gary Donegan and Rev Bill Shaw spoke to the duke about ongoing peace and reconciliation work in Northern Ireland, and the former presented him with a bottle of his new brand of Irish whiskey, Hinch.
HRH was introduced to military historian Nick Perry at the newly erected Roll of Honour on the west wall of the church, which tells of the local contribution to the Great War.
He also met with families who donated bells to the Peace Bells Project.
The Bishop of Down and Dromore Rt Rev Harold Miller conducted the short service of dedication comprising a reading, a hymn and a prayer.
A key feature of the event was the music played on the new organ.
Following the service the duke was introduced to the bell ringers before being shown around the recently restored Sexton’s Cottage, given a soda bread-making demonstration and invited to see the newly furnished parish office and counselling suite.
“The big thing in the church was he unveiled the Walker organ and met with Padraig O’Donovan of O’Donovan Organ Builders, Cork and Alistair McCartney of the Pipe Organ Preservation Company, and also Mr Gerry Egan who installed an organ in the past for the late Queen Mother, so he was very interested to chat to Gerry about that,” Rev Dr Gamble said.
The duke, HM The Queen’s cousin, was also introduced to the staff and children of Kilmood Play group – a not-for-profit organisation which meets in the parish hall and is run by a committee of parents and members of the local community.
He learned about the play group’s ‘Happy, Healthy Kids’ initiative and unveiled a commemorative plaque to mark his visit.
Rev Dr Gamble, 36, continued: “Overall it was a fantastic day.
“He had been to Florida Manor (a 17th century mansion near Killinchy) and toured the restoration and conservation work there with Michael and Barbara Lagan and then came to Kilmood.
“The visit went really well. All in all it was a terrific visit. It all went very smoothly and it was a very good day.”