The Prince of Wales was warmly welcomed in Loughgall yesterday when he paid a historic visit to the birthplace of Orangeism.
Around 100 local schoolchildren were among the first to greet the Royal visitor as he arrived at Sloan’s House Museum of Orange Heritage in the quaint Co Armagh village.
Prince Charles was shown the parlour where the first warrants were signed in 1795, marking the formation of the Orange Institution.
As well as learning more about the early development of Orangeism, the Royal visitor was shown important artefacts associated with the Glorious Revolution.
These included a pair of King William III’s riding gauntlets and a letter written by the sovereign ahead of his arrival in Ireland in 1690 on his way to the Battle of the Boyne.
In attendance at the special event were a number of dignitaries, including First Minister Arlene Foster and Heather Humphreys, Minister for Regional Development and the Gaeltacht in the Republic.
Minister Humphreys told the News Letter she was delighted to have been invited, and added: “I think we need to reach out and to understand all of the cultures on the island, and that is what this is about, it’s about showcasing the culture here today.”
Mrs Foster said she was impressed with both the Orange Order museum, and the warmth of the welcome for Prince Charles.
“It’s a marvellous day and the weather has played its part. It’s great to see so many here to welcome His Royal Highness to Loughgall,” she said.
Children from The Cope Primary School and Derryhale Primary had pride of place in welcoming Prince Charles to the village.
Principal of The Cope, Heather McKenzie, said: “I had a lovely quote from one of my P7 pupils who said that it was great to have the Monarchy recognise our village by coming to visit us.
“They just feel so privileged that this is happening and that they are part of it.”
Derryhale teacher Susan Vallelly said the father of one of her pupils had been at Buckingham Palace to receive a military medal from Prince Charles two weeks ago, and the young boy was delighted that Prince Charles had stopped to chat.
Grand Master of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland, Edward Stevenson, said it was an honour to welcome His Royal Highness to the museum.
“Complementing our larger museum in Belfast, visitors to both sites have the opportunity to learn and engage with a rich, vibrant and evolving tradition that has played a significant role in Irish, British and world history.
“The Orange Institution is very proud of our extensive and ongoing cross-community outreach. We are absolutely thrilled to receive a Royal visitor as we play our part in Northern Ireland society moving forward to an accepted and shared future for all.”
Drumderg Flute Band from Keady serenaded the Royal visitor on his arrival with the tune ‘God Bless the Prince of Wales’ - better known in these parts as ‘Derry’s Walls’.
The band’s youngest member, seven-year-old Sam Elliott, had a brief conversation with Prince Charles.
Sam’s father Paul Elliott is the Drumderg band master. He said the band had been complimented by the Royal entourage on their uniforms and decorum.
“Prince Charles asked us about our Somme medals, which were presented to our members last year after we visited the Menin Gate in Belgium.
“We were the first band of our type to play at the Menin Gate ceremony,” Mr Elliott said.
Sammy Heenan, whose father William was shot dead by the IRA near Rathfriland in 1985, was one of a number of terror victims’ family members who met the Prince.
“He came down to shake my hand, and he asked me what had happened to my father,” Mr Heenan said.
“I had lost my mother and grandmother previously so I was left an orphan, but the Orange Institution played a very positive role in my life, and was instrumental in keeping me on the straight and narrow.
“Unfortunately our organisation gets demeaned and denigrated from many quarters but this is recognition today that we are part of the mainstream, and a very important facet of life in this Province.
“It is an immensely important day for the Institution, to see the future Monarch coming over here and recognising the sacrifice of over 330 Orangemen during the Troubles for peace and stability in our Province,” Mr Heenan added.
The Prince’s other engagements in Co Armagh included a visit to Ulster Carpets, and the Yellow Door deli on Portadown’s Woodhouse Street.