Prince Charles visited one of Ireland’s oldest Presbyterian churches yesterday, in Co Down.
The heir to the throne’s first formal engagement of the day formally re-opened Portaferry Presbyterian as the Portico arts centre, which the congregation now use for their services, after eight years of work at a cost of £1.5m, including £1 million funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund plus dozens of other benefactors.
The church was founded in 1642 and moved to the present site around 1662. The current building is modelled on the Temple of Nemesis and the facade is dominated by six Doric columns.
Ian McDonnell, chair of the Friends of Portaferry Church, said the Heritage Lottery Fund had donated a remarkable sum “without which we would be sitting in a dank, damp, dangerous building and certainly not celebrating”.
Charles said it was an enormous pleasure to be able to join the congregation for the reopening.
“It is a remarkable project and for me it is very special to be able to join you on this occasion to rededicate this building,” he said. “I hope it will provide everybody who lives in this particular town with something very special for the future.”
The Rev David Gray led a service of thanksgiving and re-dedication, during which the New Quay Singers performed an anthem. Also in attendance were the local priest, and the Church of Ireland and Methodist ministers. The Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt MLA was among the people in the congregation.
Portaferry, on the tip of the Ards Peninsula, is mostly nationalist but there was a warm welcome for the royal visitor.
Joe Boyle, the SDLP councillor, said: “It was a great day. Portaferry is probably the most welcoming place you could get.”
Among those waiting outside during the service were Roisin Lennon, her daughter Grainne and grandson Stephen Traynor, aged two, who saw the Prince going in.
“It was lovely to see him,” said Roisin. “That is why we are waiting here to see him again when he comes out.”
The Prince took time talking to people as left. A GAA club gave him a hurley stick.
Neil McClure, of the Friends of Portaferry Presbyterian Church who welcomed the Prince, said: “It was at the end of a service that was very much a service for everyone.”
He added: ““It was beautiful weather. There was a buzz about the town and people knew someone was coming. The buzz turned into a whirlwind of excitement when they realised it was the prince.
“People were delighted that he took the time to come down to Portaferry and view the building and celebrate with us all the completion of its restoration.
Celebrations continue with a four-day music festival beginning this Friday (more info at www.porticoards.com).