Prince Edward was treated to a grammar school gathering with a Gaelic twist on Thursday morning.
Belfast Royal Academy (BRA), on the city’s Cliftonville Road, entertained the Earl of Wessex with an Irish-style jig after he arrived to meet pupils involved in its Duke of Edinburgh scheme.
It is believed to be the first time the site has hosted a Royal visitor, and it followed a trip by the Queen herself to the nearby Crumlin Road last year.
As the prince moved through the assembly hall meeting pupils involved with the scheme, the soft strains of harp music floated across the venue.
The centrepiece of the morning was an Irish dance performed by Jessica Burns, accompanied by a traditional music group.
The prince spoke with pupils about the various activities they were doing as part of their Duke of Ed, and one of those he met was Gold Award participant Eimear Jones, 16, from Crumlin village, who was coaching GAA as part of her award.
She said: “It was a privilege such an important figure would come and see what our Duke of Edinburgh is made of and the talents we have in the school.
“He was just asking me what I do – and was surprised girls could play Gaelic.”
She initially believed yesterday’s guest would be someone from the Duke of Ed scheme, adding it was “a massive shock” to learn the true identity of their prestigious visitor.
Standing next to her, clad in a liturgical cloak and bearing a large cross, was Cameron McGaughey, 16, from north Belfast.
The Silver Award participant was acting as a verger for the Dean of St Anne’s Anglican Cathedral in the city, and said: “It’s nice to see one of the Royals coming out to understand what we do for our Duke of Edinburgh award. It’s relieving to see that others are impressed by what we do.”
Though the school bears the moniker ‘Royal’ and some might believe it to be a ‘Protestant’ institution, long-serving teacher John Reilly said it is in fact a voluntary grammar rather than a controlled school, and described it as a “melting pot” of pupils from all different backgrounds.
Addressing the children and teachers as his visit drew to a close, the prince congratulated pupils on their progress through the awards, adding: “And, most importantly, I hope you’re having a lot of fun doing it – that’s what it’s really all about.”
Preparing to leave, he joked: “You can talk amongst yourselves now.”
Later, he continued the final day of his two-day tour of the Province with a visit to Thiepval Barracks, Lisburn, where he presented Afghanistan Operational Medals to soldiers of 2 Rifles.