Prince Charles given warm welcome on first ever royal community visit to south Armagh
A string of local families grabbed the opportunity to chat with Prince Charles during the first ever royal community visit to South Armagh today.
There was a palpable buzz as it dawned on locals using Slieve Gullion Forest Park that Prince Charles was dropping in for a brief unannounced visit.
And while the visit was ostensibly an opportunity for Charles to taste the local environment, culture and folklore, he persistently stepped outside his official agenda to greet local families who just happened to be using the park.
It is understood to be the first ever visit of a member of the House of Windsor to the community of south Armagh, with only security orientated visits by royals having happened in the past.
There were plenty of smiles and laughter from locals, who were only too keen to enlighten him regarding the best of local wildlife, music and folklore.
Charles arrived by helicopter and was soon chatting with workers from the Mourne Heritage Trust about their conservation work on the mountain, inspecting the wide range of tools they use.
Then he moved on up the mountain into forest where a number of scientists briefed him about their work with pine martens.
In the Fairy Glen, he enjoyed a traditional musical performance by children from The Ring of Gullion Traditional Arts Partnership, who went on to introduce him to the finer points of the Bodran.
Finally he moved on to meet members of the Ring of Gullion south Armagh Landscape Partnership, hearing of their extensive conservation work and the importance of Ash in making hurley sticks.
Padraig Carragher of Bluebell Lane Glamping chatted with Charles about planting 20,000 trees in the area - and local legends of Finn McCool.
“We now have visitors from as far afield as Larne and Carrickfergus who come here to take in the beauty of the Ring of Gullion,” Paidraig said later. “South Armagh is now about its ancient history - not about the recent history.”
As Charles made his way back down the mountain he stopped to chat to the Lynch family, who were sitting on a bench.
Their father, Feargal, prompted much laughter when he ventured to Charles a local legend: “If you walk to the top of the mountain there is a lake and if you jump in you come out a young man.”
As Charles finished his tour he spoke to three or four families who had waited patiently to take in the spectacle. Their faces beamed as they chatted, with one little girl presenting him with a bouquet of freshly picked bluebells. Each conversation ended with him being wished a safe journey home.
Chairperson of Newry Mourne and Down District Council SDLP councillor Laura Devlin said afterwards: “It is great to see him here, it is so symbolic. To have a man of that stature visit Slieve Gullion shows just how much we have to offer here in terms of tourism.”
As his helicopter took off three dissident republican protestors arrived, waving flags.
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